Layaway makes a comeback

Thursday, October 23rd 2008, 1:51 pm
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

Times are tough, and how to budget for Christmas gifts is a thought on the minds of many Oklahomans. But many retailers say a blast from the past may be the answer.

Layaway -- the practice that allows people to pay for everything from tools to televisions bit by bit before taking their items home -- is back in advertisements for the first time in years for discount chain Kmart.

In a national campaign launched last week, the ads proclaim "beat the rush and pay the easy way with Kmart layaway." They mark the first time many shoppers have even heard the phrase, even though the chain has offered the option for decades.

Discounter Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp. -- one of the few remaining national chains offering the option -- saw its percentage of layaway sales grow from 4.6 percent in August to 5.3 percent last month.

Layaway, which has its roots in the Great Depression, was largely eclipsed in the past two decades as economic prosperity grew and consumers began lining their wallets with credit cards. One of the last large holdouts, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., discontinued the practice in 2006, citing falling demand and rising costs, leaving a smattering of discount chains, independent retailers and Web sites to offer the option.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Linda Blakley said the company has no plans to bring back layaway, which it said can mean higher prices for customers.

Michael Bilello, a spokesman for which offers online layaway services for more than 1,000 merchants, said interest in the practice is soaring, especially among middle-income shoppers who might have eschewed it before.

"There's nothing sexy about leaving the layaway counter," he said. "But that's why a lot of people have shifted over to the world of e-commerce. You're able to shop for things you wouldn't necessarily want to buy in public and be fiscally responsible when being fiscally responsible hasn't really been the trend."