* “The Appliance Market at Walmart” test starts in Texas
* Test to be in about 20 Dallas/Ft Worth, Houston stores
* Only General Electric products are being sold
* Wal-Mart shares up 0.5 percent (Adds details on products, updates stock activity)
By Jessica Wohl
CHICAGO, May 19 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) is testing sales of General Electric Co (GE.N) household appliances again as it tries to offer a wider variety of products and financing options to appeal to its shoppers, especially those on tight budgets.
The pilot program, which began this week in Texas, pits Wal-Mart against chains such as Sears Holdings Corp SHLD.O, Home Depot Inc (HD.N) and Lowe’s Cos Inc (LOW.N), which already sell everything from refrigerators to washers and dryers in thousands of stores across the United States.
Wal-Mart first tried to sell major appliances in a test program with GE back in 2000.
Now the world’s largest retailer is quietly testing a new area at the front of the store, called “The Appliance Market at Walmart,” featuring appliances from GE’s Hotpoint, GE and GE Profile lines.
The test is currently in three Walmart supercenters and will roll out to about 20 spots in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston markets by June, Walmart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said.
The in-store displays feature 50 to 80 appliances in a range of prices to appeal to Walmart’s lower-income and more affluent shoppers. Refrigerators, for example, range from $300 to $2,500 in price.
Other items can also be ordered through a catalog, bringing the total number of appliances for sale up to about 1,000.
Walmart has changed plans from the last time around, offering a variety of purchasing and financing options. Free GE delivery is included with purchases, while hauling away old appliances, installation and maintenance are not factored into the base price.
The appliance area will largely be staffed by Flexi Compras, a company that specializes in offering lease-to-own payment plans on appliances and furniture in stores in Texas and other states.
Customers who pay with Walmart credit cards will be able to finance their purchases for 12 months with no interest. Flexi Compras is also offering a lease-to-own program that includes delivery, installation and maintenance, Lopez said.
Lease-to-own programs often appeal to shoppers who do not have access to traditional credit or financing plans.
It is too early to tell whether Walmart will expand either the number of stores in the pilot or add appliances from other manufacturers, such as Whirlpool Corp (WHR.N).
Shares of Wal-Mart were up 0.6 percent at $55.50 in afternoon trading. (Reporting by Jessica Wohl; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Dave Zimmerman)