couple on vacationStore layaway programs made a comeback last holiday season, as more recession-scarred shoppers paid for those Santa sweaters and flat screen TVs in installments.

Now, Sears (SHLD) is adding a new twist to the concept by letting consumers put their summer trip to Cancun on layaway, too, via its new site, Searsvacations.com.

It's just another sign of the times, as retailers respond to the nation's protracted economic funk by scrambling to find new ways to lure in penny-pinching consumers.

Walmart (WMT), for example, has made a play to gain ground among its many unbanked consumers with programs such as "Pay With Cash," which allows shoppers to pay in cash for online orders, offering low-fee, prepaid debit cards, and by expanding its inexpensive check cashing services.

In this case, the new program is likewise a matter of Sears knowing its audience.

"The Sears customer is not the most affluent, and it's the mid- to low-income consumers that have been hit hardest by the recession," Louis Hyman, an economic historian and assistant professor of history at Cornell University, tells DailyFinance.

Indeed, Sears entered the travel business expressly to offer vacation packages developed with its value-minded shoppers in mind, Shannelle Armstrong-Fowler, director of public relations for Sears, tells DailyFinance.

On the full-service travel website, consumers can book flights, hotels, resorts, cruises, car rentals and vacation packages without a booking fee, and a number of Sears' travel offers come with a "Best Price Guarantee."

As an introductory promotion, Sears is selling 100 vacation packages starting at $399 until July 31.

Offering the vacations on layaway is a flexible payment option "consistent with what our customers expect from Sears," Armstrong-Fowler says.

Since the start of the recession, banks have become cautious about extending credit to lower-income shoppers -- so retailers have jumped on reviving the layaway model, Hyman says.

And unlike Sears' product layaway program, where shoppers pay a $5 to $10 initial fee, SearsVacations waives the sign-up cost.

The length of Sears' layaway payment plans is based on which package a customer chooses. For example, "Some of the cruise lines require payment in full within 60 and 90 days of leaving," Armstrong Fowler says.


Deal -- or No Deal?

But buyer beware, Hyman warns. Consumers would be better off putting that layaway money into a savings account where it would at least earn some interest, Hyman argues.

Shoppers could also save up on their own to buy products without paying the layaway sign-up fee -- which in some cases can add more to the overall cost than paying for it on a credit card with a high interest rate, he says. That point is moot in this case, though, as SearsVacations is waiving the service fee.

In fact, responds Armstrong-Fowler, the misconception that layaway plans mean shoppers end up paying more for their purchases than they're worth has been fostered by some long-abandoned retail practices.

In decades past, layaway programs -- largely run by independent merchants -- charged shoppers interest to use the service. The programs offered today by national chains such as Sears do not, she says.

And while much has been made of Sears offering a layaway option for vacations, of all things, the idea is not so novel after all.

Travel companies have allowed people to pay for their trips in down-payment installments for ages, "they just don't call it layaway," Armstrong-Fowler says.





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shfeif

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July 10 2012 at 4:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
STEVE

SEARS WON'T DO A DAMN THING FOR ME. SORRIEST COMPAMY ON EARTH, BOUGHT A MATTRESS FROM SEARS TWO YEARS AGO, ABOUT A GRAND WITH A TWENTY YEAR WARANTY. SAGGING ON BOTH SIDE SEAR WILL NOT TAKE CARE OF THIS FOR ME, SO THE HELL WITH SEARS

July 04 2012 at 3:25 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
lifehub

Yet another paid Sears ad.

July 04 2012 at 10:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Laura

SEARS SUCKS I WOULD NEVER BUY ANYTHING FROM THEM AGAIN...... WE BOUGHT A STOVE 2 YEARS AGO AND STILL UNDER WARRANTY AND IT HAS TAKEN OVER 1 1/2 MONTHS TO GET ANYWHERE WITH IT AFTER 4 SERVICE TRIPS AND NOT SENDING THE RIGHT PARTS AND SENDING BROKEN PARTS AND AT LEAST A WEEK OR MORE BETWEEN VISITS FROM THE REPAIR MAN AND THEN THE REPAIR MAN BROKE MORE THINGS WHEN HE WAS HERE. FINALLY GETTING A NEW STOVE AFTER HAVING TO THREATEN THEM WITH A LAWYER AND THEN THEY WANTED US TO PAY THE TAX AND DELIVERY I DON'T THINK SO..... STOVE IS SUPPOSE TO BE HERE ON SATURDAY WE WILL SEE.........
CAN YOU SEE A VACATION FROM THEM STUCK AT AIRPORT OR NO FLIGHT AT ALL OR NO PLACE TO STAY. I THINK YOU SHOULD PICK SOMEONE ELSE TO DO YOUR TRAVEL PLANS

July 03 2012 at 10:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
alacranxxx

Don't put a vacation on layaway. It's a miserable idea and anyone who does it is asking for trouble. On the upside, they can only take away your Sears card, or send your account to collections after you come back from your obesity-inducing cruise. They can never take away your trip!

July 03 2012 at 9:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gary

and shopping at sears optical shops is like sticking sheets of spam to your face.......

July 03 2012 at 8:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Gary

shopping in sears is like feasting on spam..........end of story..........

July 03 2012 at 8:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jerry Mahoney

Stay away from Sears; they are in desperate financial shape and many analysts think they are headed toward bankruptcy. They depend on purchase agreements(extended warranties) and othe means to feed their cash poor company. If they declare bankruptcy they may not honor your layaways or warranties. STAY AWAY FROM SEARS.
THANK YOU
JERRYGUY

July 03 2012 at 7:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jerry Mahoney's comment
lifehub

Ditto. They've already shuttered nine of their stores.

July 04 2012 at 10:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jerry Mahoney

Be careful with sears; I use to work there in california and they are in desperate financial shape. They depend on customers purchasing extended warranties(purchase agreements) and they may not be able to honor those agreements including layaway vacations if they file for bankruptcy. Many analysts believe Sears will soon be underwater. Please stay away from Sears.
thank you
jerryguy

July 03 2012 at 7:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply