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Originally published August 20, 2012 at 5:43 PM | Page modified August 20, 2012 at 9:51 PM

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Wal-Mart expands the layaway spirit

The nation's biggest retailer will again offer a layaway program for the holidays and add an extra month to it.

The New York Times

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For the second year in a row, Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest retailer, will offer a layaway program for holiday purchases.

Echoing Wal-Mart executives' comments last week that American consumers are still worried about their finances, the company also said it would add an extra month to the program so shoppers have more time -- and paychecks -- to pay for their items on layaway.

"Our customer was saying if they had two more paycheck cycles, that really would be helpful for them," said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Wal-Mart U.S.

The company had gotten rid of layaway from 2006 to 2010, when the economy was much stronger and shoppers did not seem to need to delay paying for holiday gifts.

With layaway, a store sets aside a product and allows a customer to pay over time for it. It lets people on tight budgets afford more expensive items than a single paycheck might allow, since they can make a dent in the payments whenever their paychecks arrive.

Last year, Wal-Mart brought the program back.

"Our customer continues to be concerned with unemployment and underemployment," Mac Naughton said. "They're concerned about the expenses they're paying every day -- gas prices have recently gone up."

Executives cited layaway as one of the reasons its holiday sales last year were relatively strong, and an executive at Target, a major competitor, said the layaway offering at Wal-Mart was hurting Target.

Wal-Mart said millions of people used its layaway program last year. Mac Naughton declined to specify how many people did not pay off their layaway purchases but said a "distinct majority" of customers were able to finish paying off their purchases.

Like last year, shoppers can use layaway on electronics, jewelry and toys. This year, small appliances and large sporting items, like trampolines, are included in the program.

This year's terms are also a little more lenient, giving shoppers 90 days to pay instead of 60 and not charging a cancellation fee. While it is more expensive to begin a layaway purchase this year -- $15 instead of $5 -- that $15 is refunded in a gift card once the item is fully paid for.

Mac Naughton said that for now, Wal-Mart was not planning to extend its layaway program year-round. "At this time, we're focused just on the Christmas selling season," he said.

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