Ho, ho, ho! Sears and Kmart start a Christmas Club

I have to applaud Kmart, and its parent company, Sears. They're sympathetic to recession-challenged customers.

Kmart started promoting its layaway program in a big way last year right about the time the economy tanked, and now Kmart and Sears are both promoting a new Christmas club.

You probably know what a Christmas club is. Any credit union has them. You open an account and put money in it all year, and near the end of the year, they'll send you a check with a little interest on top. The main attraction isn't the interest so much, but the fact that you've been saving up for Christmas and don't have to wonder where to get the money to buy your family and friends gifts.

Well, Kmart and Sears are doing the same thing. Of course, the money you put into this Christmas club has to be spent at Sears or one of its companies, which means you can also use it at Kmart, Lands' End and The Great Indoors. And if that doesn't appeal to you, then obviously, don't do it, or find a neighborhood credit union and start a Christmas club fund through there.

The basic details are as follows: activate an account between now and October 31, and start putting money into it. If you do, you'll earn 3% on your money -- up to a maximum of $100 -- up to whatever you put in there until November 14.

If you're interested, you can sign up or get more details if you click here (Sears' Christmas club) or here (at Kmarts' Christmas Club web site).

The money will be on what looks like a credit card or gift card, or you can simply keep everything online, says Tom Aiello, the vice-president of public relations for Sears. You can shop online, or print out your information and take it into the store.

And what happens, if say, you're run over by a truck, and you miss out on shopping over the holidays? Will your money disappear? Aiello says no, adding, "Unlike a credit card, this doesn't have any fees or penalties or time limits."

According to Aiello, this was inspired by a lot of conversations with Sears customers. "We've been taking our cues from our customers all along," says Aiello, who says the company dialogues with customers via MySears.com, an online community for Sears shoppers.

The decision to offer the Christmas club solidified after a survey that Sears and Kmart commissioned, which questioned 1,000 Sears and Kmart shoppers about their feelings on spending for the holidays. Nearly six out of 10 people surveyed (58%) said that they are more concerned about how they're going to pay for their holiday shopping this year than they were at this time last year. More than half the people surveyed (56%) said they're planning on saving money for the winter holidays, and nearly one-third (32%) already have been putting money away.
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