* Walmart layaway starts in mid-September, month early
* Shoppers wanted to have more time to pay
* Fee raised to $15, will give gift card upon full payment
By Jessica Wohl
Aug 20 Walmart is bringing back layaway a month
early, giving U.S. shoppers under economic pressure more time to
pay for holiday gifts, and will refund related fees with gift
cards once payments are completed.
Layaway, which allows a customer to keep a product on hold
at the store and pay for it over time, helped boost holiday
sales for Walmart when it brought the service back in 2011 after
a five-year hiatus.
Offering layaway helps retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc
win over shoppers without access to credit. Walmart
U.S., Wal-Mart's largest unit, also offers check cashing and
other services as it tries to appeal to shoppers without bank
Walmart's holiday layaway service will begin on Sept. 16, it
said on Monday. Last year it began on Oct. 17.
"The customer was saying if they had two more pay cycles
that really would be helpful for them," said Walmart U.S. Chief
Merchandising and Marketing Officer Duncan Mac Naughton.
The longer layaway plan comes after Wal-Mart said it saw
more incidents of consumers living paycheck-to-paycheck during
the latest quarter.
Extending the program could drive traffic and sales, if
shoppers who come back to make payments more frequently buy
other items during those visits.
In the past, Walmart has said about 85 percent of
transactions in its stores are paid for with cash. Earlier this
year it began allowing shoppers to place orders online and pay
for them in a store with cash.
For now, layaway will remain an in-store service only and
will be offered only for the holiday season, Mac Naughton said.
Still, the company is making a limited social media push.
Customers who "like" their local Walmart store on Facebook can
use layaway two days early, on Friday, Sept. 14.
Under this year's plan, customers must pay a $15 fee to open
a layaway account, and will receive a $15 Walmart gift card if
they complete their payments by Dec. 14.
Last year, customers had to pay a $5 fee, there was a $10
cancellation fee, and those who paid in full did not receive
any gift card refund. This year's plan has no cancellation fee.
The downpayment of 10 percent or $10, whichever is greater,
stays the same. Customers must still spend at least $50 to sign
up for layaway, and each item must be priced at $15 or more.
Millions of customers used the service last year and "a
distinct majority" of those made their full payments, Mac
Naughton said, without disclosing specific figures.
Walmart said it would try to make the process easier for
customers this year. After signing up at the service desk,
customers at some of the 3,678 stores offering layaway can make
payments at cash registers rather than having to go back to the
service desk. Walmart will also try to coordinate with shoppers
through email or phone calls to set up times to pick up
Walmart expanded the variety of products available for
layaway, adding small appliances and certain sporting goods to
the lineup of toys, electronics and jewelry. Walmart continues
to have layaway for jewelry year-round.
Other chains that offer layaway include Sears Holding Corp's
Kmart and Toys R Us.
Wal-Mart shares were up 0.4 percent at $72.29 on Monday
morning on the New York Stock Exchange.