Layaway Returns to Wal-Mart

78% of people who responded to Fannie Mae’s latest survey said they thought the economy was headed down the wrong track and for the fourth month in a row, there’s been an increase in the number of people reporting a financial decline.

Wal-Mart believes it, because they’re doing something they haven’t done in awhile — offering holiday layaway on toys and electronics.

When I was a kid, layaway was as common as the bank Christmas Club. It was the perfect way to spread out gift-buying expenses albeit a strain on the gas tank as you drove back to the store every week to plunk down the payment due. As credit cards became more popular, layaway faded into the background and Wal-Mart discontinued the program in 2006.

Wal-Mart Chief Marketing Officer Duncan Mac Naughton told reporters that customers are struggling due to “unemployment and job security woes; higher energy prices, especially for gas; and housing concerns tied to their mortgages and foreclosures” and they want to help.

The program requires that the purchase be equal to at least $50, leave a down payment and there is a $10 cancellation fee if they items aren’t picked up by the deadline date.

The LA Times reports that Sears brought layaway back after decades, Toys R Us jumped back in on big-ticket items in 2009 and while K-Mart has always had the program and plans to expand on it this year.

It’s hard to say if a layaway program will help boost sales this holiday season. If the program is popular, it will come with its own set of paperwork and storage hurdles for local stores, but I suspect that the turnout won’t be overwhelming.

It does make me wonder if there are any online stores with this kind of program. The closest I can think of is HSN with their split payment options. But what if Amazon allowed you to pay $10 a week as an autodraw from your bank account in order to pay for that Kindle or Star Wars the Complete Saga on Blu-ray? Might make me add a few more items to my basket.

What do you think? Is layaway only for the big chains, or could it help your small business rack up the sales this holiday season?