Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Pay Off a Stranger's Lay-Away

The title of this post should actually be: "How to Pay off a Stranger's Lay Away?" because I have no idea how to do it. Since we're not doing the gift card exchange this year, I'm taking some money I've earned doing sponsored posts and using it help families. We're going to put together some stuff for the women at the domestic violence shelter and rock the angel tree at preschool and a whole bunch of other things. 

This time of year, I've always enjoyed hearing about people who go to places like Walmart and Toys R Us and pay off the lay-aways of total strangers. I mentioned it Kate and Guru, who enthusiastically agreed that we should give it a try. While wearing elf hats. So I mentioned my plan in a blog post and got an email from someone who said "Ummm… Paying off a lay-away sounds good, but how do you actually do it? Do you just walk up to the cashier and say 'Can I please pay off a random lay away?'"

So I started to do some research on how the whole thing works. First, I wanted to learn about who actually uses lay-away to see if they were the kinds of folks who needed help from a chubby blogger in an elf hat. I read all about the specific programs at different stores and looked at data from National Retail Federation/BIGinsight™ (via Forbes).

Here's what I learned about folks who use lay-away:

  • They are younger adults (younger than the average holiday shopper by 6 years),
  • 75% have kids,
  • Their households tend to earn less than $49,000/year,
  • They are 60% less likely to use credit cards (either because they believe in paying cash, they don't have credit cards, have credit problems or some other very logical reason),
  • They are bargain hunters; using social media, circulars, coupons and shopping sales (like Black Friday) to get the best prices,
  • They are most likely to buy electronics, toys and apparel using lay-away.
  • They put stuff on lay-away at these stores in the following percentages: Walmart (65.5%), Kmart (42.2%), Toys R Us (21.2%), Sears (15.2%), Burlington Coat Factory (12.4%), Marshall’s (12.1%), and TJ Maxx (9.9%).
This is cool because it fits really well the people who we helped with our project last year (see graphic at the bottom of the post). It also means that statistically, if I helped pay off a stranger's layaway I would be helping a young, lower-income but budget-conscious family with kids (who doesn't or can't use credit cards) to buy electronics or toys at Walmart.

Here's what I found out about lay-away programs in general:
  • Some lay-away programs are free and some cost money ($5 -$10).
  • There are restrictions as to what types of products can be placed on lay-away (for example, no food or perishable items),
  • You usually have to put a small amount down ($10/$15 or 10%) when you open the lay away.
  • The total purchase has to be worth more than a certain amount ($50).
  • You have to keep paying on the lay-away plan or they assume you don't want it anymore and restock it.
  • If they restock it, they charge you (this fee depends on where you shop and how much stuff you had on lay-away).
  • You will get the rest of your money refunded to you (minus the fee).
  • If you use lay-away at Walmart, YOU MUST PAY IT OFF BY DECEMBER 13th or they restock it and charge you $10.
This means I'd have to do it earlier in the month than I'd thought and that to pay off a whole lay-away means I'd be looking at a minimum of about $50. In addition to getting that family the stuff they want, I'd be saving them the re-stock charges they'd be incurring. 

Here's what I've found out about paying off a stranger's lay-away (after going to several stores and speaking with customer service people):
  • It can be easy or hard. 
  • It depends totally on the person working at the customer service desk when you show up.
  • Pick a time when you know the store will not be crowded. You can't expect a customer service representative to work with you in this if they're swamped.
  • One assistant manager suggested calling ahead to let the customer service staff know when you'll be coming in and what you want to do. 
  • If the customer service person is awesome, they will want to to help you do this. I had one offer to go through the lay away receipts and find one that had mostly baby stuff on it.
  • If when you get there (all excited and happy to do something kind for someone else), the customer service person seems annoyed by you or doesn't get it, talk to someone else, come back later, or got to another store. Don't get upset, just roll with it.
  • If you want to pay off a Walmart lay-away - you must do it by Thursday, 12/12.
  • One gentleman at Walmart showed me a "good Samaritan" code that they used to key in contributions like this. But of all the people I spoke with, he was the only one who mentioned it (so it may not be something all staff people know about).
Here's what I hope you can help me with:
  • Do you guys have any great ideas about how to do this?
  • If you've done it before, what are your suggestions?
  • Do you work in customer service and have any ideas about how best to make this happen?
  • Do you work with lay-away programs? If so, what can you tell us about how best to do this?
I'd really appreciate any ideas or suggestions you might have. I'll update this post with all your awesome feedback! 

xoxo, Lydia

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