Layaway popularity rises; fewer angels this year
Pallavi Agarwal | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Tuesday, a Sebring resident came to Kmart and paid off 10 layaway accounts of absolute strangers, for a total of $2,000.
Published: December 14, 2012
Published: December 14, 2012
One of those who received this Christmas surprise is a woman whose husband is in the hospital.
The woman was so overwhelmed she started to cry when the store's assistant manager called her, said store manager Tom Tibble Thursday. She didn't know if she could have otherwise paid off what she owed.
Most of the other beneficiaries who also heard the news were in disbelief, Tibble said, and extremely grateful.
The "layaway angel," who Tibble would only reveal as Alice from Sebring, had originally come to donate a $1,000 toward delinquent layaway accounts but doubled the offer.
Last year, many of these benefactors were making headlines for paying off layaway accounts at several Kmart stores across the country, including the Sebring location.
This year, Tibble has heard of this being done at a couple of other Kmart stores. Alice, who was one of many who visited the Sebring store last year, has been the only one so far to have come in this year.
The layaway angels are not the only reason the Depression-era shopping alternative has been in the news the past couple of years.
As economic woes continue, some shoppers on a budget are preferring layaway over high-interest credit cards.
Many merchants have beefed up their layaway promotions this year, either opening it up earlier this year for Christmas shoppers or even scaling back fees, many for early shoppers. Some stores also have added online layaway plans.
Tibble said he has seen a "big lift" in layaways the last three to four years and thinks the economy is the reason.
This year, Kmart waived its service fee for one promotion that ended in November.
Walmart spokeswoman Debbie Wishton said they opened up the program 30 days earlier than last year, beginning Sept. 16 and ending Dec. 14.
They also added more merchandise categories to the program, and based on customer feedback, decided to roll back their opening fee of $15 to $5 for the holiday season.
"We believe this rollback strengthened our layaway offering and made layaway even more attractive to our customers," she added in an email.
"While it is too early to say and I cannot speculate about plans for our layaway next holiday season, I can tell you that it has been a popular program for millions of Walmart customers," she added.
A new analysis by BIGinsight identifies Walmart and Kmart as top destinations for layaway this holiday season.
Electronics, toys and apparel are the gifts most likely to end up in the layaway bin and almost half of those who responded to a consumer survey are using layaway for the first time this year.
One in 10 planned to use layaway, the recent monthly survey found.
While layaway services can be a "great alternative" to high-interest credit cards, Stephen A. Cox, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, cautions shoppers to "take note of the fine print and know what to expect."
When buying items on layaway, the group advises consumers to get everything in writing and offers the following checklist of questions to ask:
How much time do I have to pay off the item? When are the payments due? How much do I have to put down? Are there any storage or service plan fees? What happens if I miss a payment? Are there penalties? Does the item return to inventory? Can I get a refund or store credit if I no longer want the item after making a few payments? What happens if the item goes on sale after I've put it on layaway? Does the retailer or third-party layaway service, who may be servicing the account, have a good BBB rating?