Forget credit cards; layaway plans are the hot trend for Christmas shopping this year.
These perky payment plans began to re-appear several years ago, but Wal-Mart is giving it a big kick in the pants this year. After a five-year layoff, Wal-Mart announced Thursday it was bringing back the payment method that gained initial traction in the Great Depression.
Speaking of trends, merchants plan on using a variety of methods this holiday season to part consumers and their cash. Here are seven retail trends you'll see unveiled in October...or earlier.
1. Allow me to recommend...Personalized product recommendations are everywhere this year, as improved technology allows merchants to base purchase suggestions on a shopper's previous search behavior. It's a proven system for presenting consumers with products they might otherwise miss, while promoting a one-to-one experience that personalizes an e-retailers website.
2. Look at your marketing campaign, then look at me.Old Spice got it right in 2010 when they expanded their marketing campaign across all platforms. Starting with the phenomenally popular commercial featuring a handsome man on a horse, the scent manufacturer upped the ante by turning the towel-clad stud into an Internet meme.
Pepsi Refresh soon followed suit with an integrated marketing campaign that hit social media, mobile devices, e-readers and offline marketing. Other manufacturers and merchants are already ramping up their integrated attacks. L'Occitane en Provence, for example, recently calculated its revenue from an email registration campaign as increasing sales from .11 cents for random emails to $2.84 per targeted email.
3. Have yourself a very mobile Christmas.Mobile marketing will really hit its stride, starting as early as October. Fueled by increased smartphone use and mobile-only households, Forrester predicts over 75 percent of marketers will include mobile in their marketing mix, using a variety of techniques that blend in-store and online experiences. Shoppers can readily compare prices, scan for coupons, and even order a product, if a brick-and-mortar store doesn't meet their preferred price.
The trend represents a rapid response to statistics from IBM Coremetrics, revealing sales via mobile devices made up 6.5 percent of all site purchases, as of April 2011.
4. Pay for shipping? No way! Amazon.com started a mass movement towards free shipping in 2005 that consumers rapidly took to heart. As more merchants jumped on the bandwagon, shoppers began expecting free shipping and even refused to buy when no such deals were offered.
The mobile and free delivery trends dovetail nicely this year, with such sites as FreeShipping.org providing readily accessible codes.
5. Procrastinators have a reason to rejoice.This is the year Free Shipping Day is expected to overwhelm Cyber Monday. The one-day shopping holiday, scheduled this year for Friday, Dec. 16, will allow consumers to shop more than 2,000 online merchants with free shipping and delivery by Christmas Eve.
In 2010, Free Shipping Day blew past its 35-year-old sibling Black Friday by nearly $300 million in online sales and proved the third-heaviest day of online shopping in history. The event is further fueled by statistics from IBM Coremetrics indicating 83 percent of consumers prefer to shop online than in crowded stores, and 21 percent expect to spend more online in 2011 than 2010.
6. Expect color coordination across the board.We're going to be sick of silver and green by New Years, as merchants push the official 2011 color pallet for Christmas decorations. According to The Trend Curve, an international authority on designs and color trends for the home, silver and a soft green are the pair to beat this year.
7. Please hold. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, layaway plans are making a rapid comeback, as consumers increasingly refuse to pile on more credit card debt.
Sears and Kmart led the charge for Christmas 2010, introducing reasonable layaway programs. This year, the Sears program allows customers to pay as little as $20 or 20 percent down (whichever is greater) and make online or in-store payments every two weeks before claiming their purchases.
Sears charges $5 to initiate a layaway contract and $15 for cancellation. The Kmart layaway program is identical, except shoppers make a down payment of $20 or 10 percent.
Wal-Mart's campaign begins this year on Oct. 17 and is available only for purchases of $50 or more on electronics and toys. Each item must be worth at least $15 and shoppers will pay a $5 initiation fee, place 10 percent down, and pay off the debt by Dec. 16 or face a $10 cancellation fee.
A few other stores with similar programs include Toys R Us and Babies R Us, Burlington Coat Factory, TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Big Lots offers a "Price Hold" program on select furniture.
Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles. As a nationally recognized media source, Andrea has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more.