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Retailers sweeten layaway plans to lure buyers

Kai Ryssdal: Not to totally kill your post-Labor Day buzz, but I'm here to tell you it's time to start thinking about your holiday shopping. Honest. Because retailers are.

Toys 'R' Us announced it's starting its holiday layaway plan a month early. Today, in fact. Walmart's getting a jump on layaway purchases too, and both Sears and Kmart are offering discounts to shoppers who use their layaway plans.

From New York, Marketplace's Stacey Vanek Smith explains what's going on.


Stacey Vanek Smith: Let the holiday shopping season begin? Starting today, Toys 'R' Us will waive its $5 layaway fee and its minimum price requirement. Now you buy a $2 gift on an installment plan.

Troy Rice is the executive vice president of stores and services for Toys 'R' Us.

Troy Rice: We think that it’s very important to do what we can to assist our customers to stretch their budgets further.  

Layaway had pretty much gone away until the Great Recession, when retailers revived it as a solution for shoppers with bad credit. But layaway 2.0 never really took off says Alison Lipson, a retail analyst for Mintel Research.

Alison Lipson: When it first came out, it kind of came back. But I think overall, it hasn’t had the long-term effect that some retailers may have expected it to.

So if people aren’t really using layaway, why are stores pushing it so hard?

Ken Goldstein: So that retailers don’t wind up in the middle of December with a lot of merchandise that they’re not selling.  

Ken Goldstein is an economist at Conference Board. He says it’s not so much that consumers’ economic situations are worse -- it’s that they’ve gotten into the habit of waiting for last-minute holiday discounts. Retailers are hoping new layaway incentives will get people to shop early and pay full price. 

Goldstein: Why are they looking to layaway plans as opposed to discounting? Because they’re in the business of trying to make some money.  

Goldstein points out many retailers count on the holidays for nearly half of their income and another season of mass markdowns would make for a very unhappy new year.

In New York, I’m Stacey Vanek Smith for Marketplace.

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.
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