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Retailers Entice Reticent Shoppers with Cyber Layaway

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday – which traditionally signal the start of the holiday shopping season -- are still a ways away. A number of retailers are trying to kick start things. Case in point: the folks at KMart and Sears, who launched their own self-proclaimed National Layaway Week in early October as the impetus to get consumers thinking about holiday shopping and take advantage of what they call a “relevant shopping solution.”

Layaway, which first entered the scene during the Great Depression when people didn't have the cash to make a purchase at once, is -- thanks to recent economic flailings -- back in vogue. A mainstay in department stores up through the 70s and even early 80s, it disappeared when retailers began to offer more opportunistic and profitable store credit cards. 

But given consumers’ new found (forced?) penchant for stowing credit cards – last year NRF reported U.S. shoppers using credit cards during the holiday season was expected to decline 10 percent -- and/or credit limit slashing, layaway or "lay-by" plans have become a popular service for stores looking to recruit and secure consumer dollars this holiday shopping season. 

Today, the layaway has been made even more convenient, thanks to the Internet. KMart offers an online center where customers can find local stores offering layaway, reserve items in selected categories for holiday giving and manage the online payments that will let consumers pick up those items in-store before Christmas.

The online layaway feature lets customers locate a store participating in the program by entering their ZIP code at www.kmart.com. They can also look for a special layaway icon against selected products in online commerce and indicate at checkout that they want to put those items on layaway at their local participating Kmart store.

This new “cyber layaway” seems to be working quite well for the company. KMart says it saw double-digit increases in its layaway customers and sales in 2008 after an online/offline campaign to promote layaway. The company said users searched the term “layaway” twice as much in August 2009 as they did in the same month in 2008. Since recent economic indicators seem to offer hope that consumers might be a little less conservative with their holiday spending this year than last, layaway might just be the ticket – offering them to gift to their hearts content while still staying within their means.

Posted by Diane Cerulli, Product Management Director, Epicor

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