Walmart fires holiday 2012 opening salvo

Walmart will offer its holiday layaway 30 days earlier this year and extend the program to more product categories, the company announced Monday.

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"Last year, millions of Americans relied on layaway at Walmart to provide a great Christmas for their families. Because of their feedback, we're offering the service again this year and making it better than ever," said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer for Walmart U.S. The company said it is working with major brands to make high-demand holiday products available in Walmart stores when layaway kicks-off of September 16. The program starts two days earlier for online shoppers who like their local store on Facebook.

This year’s start date is a month earlier than last year when Walmart first restored the program after a several year hiatus.

In addition to the early start, another key change involves an expanded list of merchandise categories. Walmart has added small appliances and select sporting goods such as basketball goals, trampolines and large exercise equipment to electronics, toys and jewelry as categories eligible for layaway.

Another change involves an increase in the fee to open a layaway account to $15 from $5 last year, but shoppers receive a refund of the $15 fee in the form of a Walmart gift card after they complete their final payment. Otherwise, the $15 fee is forfeited as was the case with last year’s $5 feel. Other terms of the program are comparable to last year such as down payment of $10 or 10% of the purchase price, whichever is greater.