Why not lay-away at supermarkets?

October 19, 2011

Let shoppers build a holiday fund for their big-ticket home entertainment purchases, and build continuity, trips and market share in the process.

Can lay-away plans, a classic way for cash-strapped shoppers to save up for holiday gifts, work in supermarkets?

The Lempert Report says yes – not only because Toys R Us, Kmart and Sears have gotten some press lately about their plans, but because the time is overdue in this economy and a simple mechanism can make it happen.   

Although most supermarkets don’t carry expensive gifts, many do sell quality housewares, wines, costly meats and seafood, party trays and catering services. The tabs can mount up for these when people entertain for the holidays or for the Super Bowl in February. Why not create a program that helps people budget towards these fun events – and simultaneously lock them into your store as the provider?

A program that could work, in our view, would give people a chance starting in autumn and continuing into winter to designate dollars for their holiday or Super Bowl fund each time they swipe their credit card at the checkout. Buy a basket of food and toss some extra bucks into the holiday fund. Perhaps on subsequent trips to the store, a service desk staffer or cashier would be able to tell them the growing amount in their personal fund.

Stores would involve more shoppers if they incentivize with, say, a 5% or 10% value bonus upon redemption, so $300 becomes worth $315 or $330 in merchandise. These bonuses would likely be used on high-margin goods anyway and the program would build trips and continuity. Stores could let shoppers redeem between mid-November and early February – a nice convenience for these households and an effective market-share tactic for supermarkets.