Con: Fees, stipulations can make layaway complicated


Dec. 16, 2012 at 6:16 a.m.
Updated Dec. 17, 2012 at 6:17 a.m.

Christmas 2012 marks a milestone for mother-daughter duo Rachel Baker and Kathy Sutton.

For the first time in years, they won't burn the midnight oil Christmas Eve with last-minute wrapping.

"We always end up doing it that night but not this year," Baker said Thursday with a grin. "We're wrapping them now."

Gift wrap isn't the only place they assert that attitude. It also extends to purchases.

Both mom and daughter say they opt against layaway plans, preferring instead to be done with the buys as soon as possible.

"When we see something on sale and the money's there, we go ahead and get it," Sutton, a Victoria homemaker, said. "We look for good deals."

Although many retailers continue to push holiday layaway programs, consumers aren't necessarily taking advantage of them, according to a survey released by CFI Group, a customer satisfaction technology and analytics firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The study indicated 53 percent of those surveyed were more aware of such plans this year, but two-thirds were less likely to take advantage of the programs than in the past. In total, 85 percent of surveyed participants said they did not plan to use layaway.

CFI CEO Sheri Petras said layaway, price matching and similar deals might ease customers' anxiety in a recovering economy, but she encouraged stores to focus more on friendly, easily accessible customer service.

"To compete successfully this holiday shopping season, retailers need to understand what drives customer satisfaction for their customer base," she said in the release.

Layaway is a good option for some people, especially those who need to purchase many gifts but can't afford to pay them all off at once, said Emily Reed, a financial counselor with GreenPath Debt Solutions. Still, she said, it's buyer beware.

Programs vary from store to store, Reed said, noting some retailers only offer layaway on items that meet certain dollar amounts or on specific products in particular. Others add service and cancellation fees to the mix.

"It can actually cost you more to put an item in layaway than to put it on a card and pay it off in a billing cycle," she said.

Price adjustments such as seasonal sales often don't translate into layaway situations, Reed added. Unlike a typical purchase, in which shoppers can return items and repurchase them at sale prices or stores can simply refund that changed amount, the original price is often the set price during layaway.

"If the item gets cheaper, you're out of luck," she said.

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