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Stores expand holiday layaway options

It's the holiday season -- which means it’s time to start putting gifts on layaway! I know, it's early October but retailers like Toys 'R’ Us and Walmart have started their layaway programs early and have reduced fees to attract shoppers. But does this layaway strategy actually work? 

“I have been doing layaway for 35 years, I would call myself the layaway queen.”

That self-proclaimed layaway queen is my mom, Carol Meraji. The more items she can put away, the more she will.

Sarah Spencer, a spokesperson for Walmart, says its holiday layaway program was so successful last year that they're letting people put more items away.

"This year, we're adding small home appliances, so that's your microwaves, your crockpots and you also have your select sporting goods,” says Spencer.

Holiday layaway at Toys 'R' Us has also done well -- it had to stop people from putting away certain electronics until new inventory shipped.

Richard Feinberg, a retail professor at Purdue University, says retailers continue to expand layaway and eliminate fees to lure in broke consumers. And with a 7.8 percent unemployment rate, he says there are plenty of those consumers to lure in.

"The fact that we have any retail sales is amazing and it's so important for them to get every last dollar from anybody, many of them are waiving the fees and making the rules much simpler,” says Feinberg.

Layaway has Depression-era roots, and Feinberg says it works best for both consumers and retailers when times are tough. However, Feinberg claims that next holiday season -- if the economy improves -- you're going to be hearing a lot less about layaway.

About the author

Shereen Marisol Meraji is a reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.
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