Footloose, Blue Light Specials and Layaway

By Stew

KMart and Sears Layaway commercials are some of the most unintentionally hilarious advertisements on television right now. They are always met with smirks and sarcasm by Mrs. Stew and I. Layaway? Seriously?

Sears and KMart are in the midst of conducting a full-court press on behalf of their layaway programs without seeming to realize that layaway is actually a worse deal than just buying an item with a credit card. Layaway might be Kmart Smart, but it sure is not frugal money smart.

I remember when Sears was a respected, mid-level department store with quality products. I also remember when KMart was the only “big box” store around – the only place to go for everyday needs – and as a kid, I loved a good Blue Light Special. However, both stores have been struggling to increase their market-share and profits over the past couple of decades. But instead of re-making their image with new ideas, new products or quality service, their marketing departments are set on re-warming old ideas. KMart officially retired Blue Light Specials in 1991, but have attempted to revive the concept at least three times this century making their store feel more and more like a flea market full of 1980’s kitsch than a credible challenge to Target and WalMart. They seem tone-deaf to the idea that while BLS’s were pretty cool in the 70’s and 80’s – a world without the internet and with fewer shopping options – the term “blue light special” has become synonymous with “cheap” and not in the good sense. Then along comes 2011 and  KMart and Sears (the company that owns KMart) decide to make a huge push for a brand new, cutting edge marketing gimmick called “layaway.” I guess with the movie Footloose in theaters, they thought the 80’s were back.

How does layaway work?

Layway comes in two basic varieties: the 8-week plan and the 12-week plan. A customer brings an item (or in this case, a whole cart full of items) to the service counter where they pay a $5 fee + a 10% down payment. Over the next 8 or 12 weeks, the customer makes bi-weekly payments until the items are paid in full and can then be picked up by the customer. KMart is pushing this as a great way in which to do your Christmas shopping.

Who needs layaway?

Almost no one needs layaway . . . here is the only conceivable scenario in which layaway makes good sense:

  • If you have terrible credit and do not have a credit card.
  • If the item is a one-of-a-kind, only found at KMart and you are worried that they will run out by Christmas.
  • If you or your family simply cannot live without that item.
  • If you are guaranteed to get a monetary windfall before Christmas.

I think that if all of those scenarios were to apply to you then maybe you need layaway, however, if all of those scenarios apply to you, then you probably have bigger problems than trying to figure out how to buy something at KMart.

Almost every option is better than layaway.

If you think that you need layaway, be sure to run though the other options first:

  • Buy it outright: If you have enough money to purchase the item over an eight week period, why can you not just save up and buy it? What is going to change in eight weeks?
  • Credit Card: If you buy an item with a credit card and pay it off in eight weeks, it is unlikely that you will incur interest charges that exceed the $5 layaway fee. Furthermore, you get to take the item home with you! If you use layaway, KMart holds all the cards: the $5 fee, the payment for the item and the item itself.
  • Borrow: I hate borrowing money from friends and family too . . . but if you really, really must start paying for the item now but do not need it for two months . . . isn’t there someone who can help you out?
  • Do not buy: And if no one will lend you the money, chances are, you do not need the item.

In the meantime, enjoy the KMart commercials, they are always good for a laugh. Particularly these lines:

“No matter how you do the math, KMart layaway is the easy way to pay!”

“Smart shopping is what’s going on. Anyone can buy new appliances through the Sears Layaway plan.”

“I finished back-to-school shopping and won’t get a bill for any of it.”

A National Acrobat

4 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Footloose, Blue Light Specials and Layaway”

  1. pen Says:

    mathematically, layaway is not the best idea… but customers who know they lack self discipline want the service to avoid running up high credit card bills. the only good news here is that those people who can’t save up effectively recognize that limit.

  2. Jen Says:

    Actually Kmart owns Sears not the other way around.
    And if you had to do layaway Walmart’s is better.
    I agree that $5 is too much for them to hold stuff however most people are never taught how money works.
    Thanks for all you do.

  3. Jonathan Says:

    Personally I always like to try and buy things outright, except that is for the mortgage on my house! It’s not frequently cost effective to have payment plans.

  4. Maggie@SquarePennies Says:

    It is pretty sad that so many people have to use layaway. Perhaps some like the idea of using cash & not their credit card(s). They can’t trust themselves with a cc, so they pay cash with layaway. So sad. Or perhaps their credit card is already maxed out? Yikes! Christmas is not their biggest problem.