Walmart Layaway Still Sucks

Oct 11, 2013 by

slash through layawayThe upcoming holiday weekend in the U.S. fires the starting gun for the vital (to retailers’ bottom lines) holiday shopping “season” that doesn’t end until the post-Christmas sales have at last physically and financially exhausted consumers. So it’s a good time to revisit layaway, that clever marketing tool of subversion intended to help you spend more than you can afford while nicely camouflaged as a consumer convenience. Ha!

Walmart Layaway

Mega-retailer Walmart has led the pack of merchandisers in resurrecting layaway, so let’s pick on it. Evidently concluding that its 2012 layaway program left a few coins in consumers’ pockets that rightly belonged to it, Walmart has altered its layaway terms for 2013.

First, Walmart’s 2012 layaway terms:

Walmart 2012 layaway details

And now, Walmart’s 2013 layaway program terms:

Walmart 2013 layaway terms

Walmart Layaway: 2012 vs. 2013

Help me out here, but here are the changes I could identify:

  • “Open Fee” Dropped  In 2012, you had to pay $5 to open a Walmart layaway account. If you behaved yourself and fully paid for everything you put in layaway (by the December 14 deadline), Walmart would “refund” your $5 open fee. (Walmart defined a “refund” as giving you the opportunity to spend another $5 at Walmart.) In 2013, there’s no open fee.
  • Date Changes  No big deal, just a function of the calendar. In 2013 you have to make your final layaway payment and haul away your junk treasures by December 13 or else Walmart turns into the pre-Cindy Lou Who enlightened Grinch.
  • Cancellation Fee Added  This one’s interesting. In 2012 if you cancelled your layaway account, you’d forfeit your $5 “open fee.” In 2013, you’ll pay a $10 cancellation fee. Clearly Walmart wants to discourage cancellations, which likely torture its inventory management gurus.
  • Timing  Walmart’s formally giving itself some time—up to 10 days—to actually deliver a “laid away” item to you after you’ve fully paid for it. Again, the inventory management group must have really squawked about certain aspects of the 2012 program because you can see its fingerprints on the 2013 changes.
  • Black Friday Blacked Out  Walmart’s service desk staff have enough challenge on Black Friday breaking up brawls among shoppers without having to deal with tons of layaway business. A vague warning in 2012 of “limited hours” on Black Friday has been changed for 2013 to the seemingly definitive “Layaway not available on November 29.” I’m probably not as bright as the average Walmart shopper, but I’m unclear whether this means that on Black Friday you can’t open a layaway account, you can’t add more items to an existing layaway account, both, or something else.

Walmart Layaway Program Changes: What’s It All Mean?

Of the five I’m able to identify, the only change to Walmart’s layaway terms that I find meaningful is the termination of the $5 open fee in favor of the addition of a $10 cancellation fee.

Why the change? I think the answer is simple: by eliminating the hurdle to open and increasing the penalty to cancel a layaway account, Walmart aims to a) suck more shoppers into layaway, and b) cut the portion who ultimately drop out. That should be good for Walmart’s shareholders, but it’s bad for you, the Walmart shopper.

No Matter the Terms, Layaway Sucks, for You

Let’s think about this for a minute: Why does layaway exist?

A retailer’s public relations representative will say layaway is about convenience. I agree! Layaway makes it more convenient for you spend even more than you can afford to spend. And by providing this convenience, the retailer transfers even more cash from your pocket to its. That’s why layaway exists, period.

Think about it. You don’t have the cash to buy that $300 flat screen television. But hey, you can squeeze out of your budget $25 a week for 12 weeks, right? Great! Except one thing: if you don’t have $300 spare cash today to spend on a non-essential item like a flat screen TV, then, my friend, I’m sorry, but you can’t afford a $300 flat screen TV! It’s really that simple.

Don’t Succumb to Layaway

The world’s awash with clever marketing tools designed to entice you to spend more than you can afford. Some—credit cards, consolidation loans, and “no payments for X months” propositions come to mind—will directly cost you money if you use them irresponsibly or somehow screw up. Others, like layaway, may not appear to cost you anything up front, but you’ll pay a big price for routinely living beyond your means, which is what you’re doing if you use layaway.

Besides, do you really want, during the holiday shopping season, to stand in line at the Walmart service desk to open a layaway account and then stand in line again at a cash register to make each of your layaway payments? And what about the December 13 Walmart layaway deadline? If you wait—along with several million other Walmart shoppers—until then to make your final layaway payment, may the force be with you friend. You’ll need it just to find a parking space.

Do You Layaway?

Do you plan to use layaway this shopping season? If so, please share: why would you do that?

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