Walmart Sweetens the Pot for Holiday Layaway Shoppers

Walmart (WMT) is offering a better deal to layaway shoppers this coming holiday season, the latest sign that pay-in-installment programs continue to see a revival among retail chains.

The nation's biggest retailer, which resumed layaway last year after ditching it in 2006, will refund shoppers their $15 sign-up fee in the form of a Wal-Mart gift card when they make their final payment installment.

Layaway at Walmart will be available nationwide on Sept. 16 -- a full month earlier than last year -- through December 14. That means shoppers will have "two additional pay cycles to pay for their purchases," Deborah Weinswig, a Citi retail analyst, said in a research note.

What's more, the retailer is giving its 19 million-plus Facebook fans a two-day head start on their layaway purchases. On September 14, shoppers can click on their local Wal-Mart Facebook page, "like" the retailer, and put items on layaway.

Sign of the Times

Retailers have been playing up layaway to coax purchases out of shoppers battle-scarred by the nation's prolonged economic funk.

In June, Sears (SHLD) introduced a layaway vacation site,

But the pay-as-you-go option really got rolling last holiday season, as retailers including Toys R Us enhanced their layaway programs just as Wal-Mart got back into the game.

The discounter's enhanced layaway program comes as Walmart's low- and moderate-income shoppers continue to struggle.

"I don't think the economy's helping us," Charles M. Holley Jr., Walmart's chief financial officer, said during a conference call last week to review the retailer's second-quarter performance. Shoppers are still fretting over high unemployment, steep gas prices and surging food prices, he said. "If anything, our consumer's probably being a little more stretched."

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