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story.lead_photo.caption This undated file photo shows Wal-Mart's sign in front of its Bentonville headquarters.

Walmart Inc. has reduced the number of Supercenters offering layaway this Christmas shopping season, culling the service in stores where there is less demand.

“Stores continuing layaway were selected based on usage of the program over the past few years,” Walmart spokesman Casey Staheli said Thursday. He didn’t say how many stores were affected by the decision.

However, Staheli said Walmart offers other financing options nationwide, including its Walmart Rewards credit card and Affirm, a buy-now-pay-later program available on certain purchases.

Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant and president of Spieckerman Retail, said it’s important to note the Bentonville-based retailer isn’t eliminating layaway altogether.

“It’s looking at the data and deciding which stores make the most sense for the program,” Spieckerman said. “That isn’t to say that shoppers won’t be disappointed or at least confused when layaway is discontinued at their stores. This could be problematic in regions where Walmart’s various formats are sparse.”

Shoppers can check for stores in their area that still offer layaway by using the store locator at Walmart.com/layaway.

A search on the location finder shows the only store in Benton and Washington counties where layaway is available is in Springdale at 2004 S. Pleasant St. Two Supercenters in Little Rock and one in North Little Rock are among those still offering it, as well as one in Fort Smith and several in the Jonesboro area, according to the locator.

The layaway store finder page also has a prompt for more information about the Affirm program. Spieckerman said Walmart would clearly like to “wean” shoppers off layaway and toward Affirm.

“In the meantime, continuing layaway on a selective basis could be seen as generous given how cumbersome it is to execute and how covid-19 has reduced the store visits required to make payments,” Spieckerman said.

Layaway lets customers reserve merchandise with a deposit and make interest-free payments over a set time. It began during the Depression era of the 1930s, according to Investopedia.com, but fell out of favor during the 1980s as the use of credit cards grew.

Still, layaway works for people with limited disposable income who can’t make larger lump-sum payments for purchases. It also benefits retailers by letting them sell products to lower-income customers, including those with no credit or bad credit, at little risk.

Walmart discontinued its year-round layaway program in 2006 to cut costs and make room for the ship-to-store service it was starting. But it revived layaway for the Christmas shopping season of 2011, when many families continued to suffer financially from the recession.

The retailer now offers the service each year beginning Aug. 28. The last day customers can pay the balance on their accounts and pick up reserved items is Dec. 14, according to the company’s website.

Each year, reports come from around the country of celebrities and anonymous “secret Santas” paying off the layaway balances for large numbers of customers at Walmart and other retailers.

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