Shoppers turn to layaway for holiday gifts

October 6, 2009 (CHICAGO) The National Retail Federation is predicting a 1 percent decline in total sales to a little more than $437 billion for November and December combined. The decline is compared with the same period last year. The news comes on the heels of lower retail sales for September. That's the 13th down month in a row.

"The forecast, it's not optimistic, it's not pessimistic, it's realistic," said Scott Krugman, National Retail Federation VP. "Retailers are seeing there is some stabilization of consumers, but this shows the recovery will not be driven by consumers. With unemployment still high, consumers are holding back."

For those looking to get a head start on holiday shopping, a major retailer has a new option to help shoppers managing a budget. Kmart is rolling out a new way for shoppers to buy their items on a plan. This comes just in time for the holidays. And just in time for savvy shoppers who want to save up instead of using cash up front or credit.

The Kmart on Addison Street is one of Aracelis Vezquez's favorites. She says she has been doing layaway here for years, especially before the holidays.

"I come here and I put it on layaway and pay for in it eight weeks. And I have it done. And it's ready to put under the tree," said Vezquez.

Kmart has always offered in-store layaway. And the store manager has seen more interest in the program in the last two years.

"Any way they can save money, they want to do and have what they need and want," said Olu Balogun, Kmart manager.

Starting today, Kmart offers layaway online. Shoppers can browse for their items from a computer and register to set up a layaway contract online.

"Shop for your husband and your wife and family members without actually going to the store to do your shopping. It is made easy," said Balogun.

For online layaway, the Federal Trade Commission offers some advice, like knowing terms of the layaway plan and the refund policy.

"If you make a deposit...and decide you don't want the merchandise or get it and are not happy with it, will you get a refund?" said Todd Kossow, Federal Trade Commission.

Todd Kossow is the assistant director of the Midwest region for the FTC. He says there are some new, online only layaway businesses. He suggests checking out any new business and keeping good records.

"Know what you are getting into before you get into it," said Kossow.

Understanding the commitment and conditions can make layaway a perfect fit for a shopper trying to avoid credit cards. Angel Olivo already has a surprise for his grandchildren. He is planning ahead for Christmas even though his hours at work have been cut back.

"Christmas is coming around the corner, so try to get the Christmas gifts for the kids," said Olivo.

There are often non-refundable layaway fees. Know what those are and if you can live with that, but understand you wouldn't get charged interest like you would with a credit card.

By the way, Sears is also starting its online layaway today.

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