Retailers might not be decorating with holly and ivy yet, but some are already finding new ways to get shoppers in the Christmas mood before Halloween.
For the first time Toys 'R' Us and Wal-Mart are appealing to early birds by starting their layaway programs a month earlier, in September. Wal-Mart, whose layaway program runs through Dec. 14, extended its program to allow its customers to stretch out the interest-free payments, spokeswoman Sarah Spencer said. The Toys 'R' Us and Babies 'R' Us programs run through Dec. 16.
Both retailers have changed their service fees. Wal-Mart raised its fee from $5 to $15 per item, but it refunds the amount when the final payment is made. Toys 'R' Us waived the upfront fee completely for items purchased before Oct. 31. Starting Nov. 1, the fee is $5.
Kmart and Sears, which have year-round layaway programs, also have eliminated fees.
Target and Best Buy remain holdouts. Although Best Buy has a layaway program in many states, Minnesota and Wisconsin aren't included, and there are no plans to change that a spokesperson said. Target has no plans for a layaway program, spokeswoman Jenna Reck said.
Want more layaway options? Consider eLayaway (www.elayaway.com), which has 230 participating retailers, including Apple. Each order adds a 3.9 percent surcharge for the service.