One of the hallmarks of customer centricity is making it easier for customers to do business with a company. One company that's taken a step in the right direction in this regard is Wal-Mart. This week, the retail giant announced that it has expanded its Christmas layaway program, extending the amount of time that customers have to pay for certain products under its interest-free program by an additional 30 days. In addition, Wal-Mart also expanded the categories available for layaway for customers, adding small appliances and select sporting goods such as trampolines and basketball goals in addition to toys, electronics, and jewelry.In a press release to announcing the updated layaway program, Wal-Mart says it listened to customer feedback and not only renewed the pay-over-time service but chose to extend the program from 60 to 90 days in order to give customers two extra payroll cycles to pay off their purchases. Wal-Mart reintroduced its layaway program last year after canceling it in 2006 due to the high costs of running the program.
Wal-Mart's layaway program is designed to help out low-to-middle income customers who are having trouble stretching their income and purchase bigger ticket holiday gifts, especially as personal income remains flat while gas prices are back on the rise and the U.S. drought continues to push up food prices. As consumer credit has tightened in recent years, layaway programs have experienced a renaissance, with retailers such as Sears and Toys R Us re-adding or expanding their layaway programs.
Wal-Mart's move is sharp on a few fronts. By announcing its expanded layaway program now, the company is planting a seed in the minds of its customers that it is the customer-friendly, go-to destination for their holiday shopping. Also, the modifications to the program signal to customers that Wal-Mart is listening to and acting on their needs and preferences.
I'm not waving the Wal-Mart flag. But the company does deserve some credit for taking a customer-centric approach to helping consumers stretch their holiday dollars and make this year's holiday season a little bit more affordable.