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Walmart gets aggressive with early start to holiday season layaway

Walmart's Black Friday Starts Strong in BentonvilleWalmart's Black Friday Starts Strong in Bentonville
Customers shop at a Walmart.Photograph by Gunnar Rathbun — Invision for Walmart

Walmart (WMT) is already sending a message loud and clear to the competition: it will fight hard, really hard, this holiday season to win customers’ business.

The world’s largest retailer said on Thursday it would make its annual holiday season layaway program available to customers two weeks earlier than last year, lower the price for individual eligible items to $10 from $15, and give shoppers 90 days to pay instead of 60.

Each year, retailers like Walmart, Target (TGT), and (AMZN) seem to get an earlier and earlier start to the holiday season. But after a series of disappointing Christmas periods for many retailers, and disappointing past few months for industry sales, little is being left to chance.

When Walmart brought back its layaway program in 2011 after a five-year hiatus, customers could come in and reserve an item for the Christmas period starting Oct. 17. This year, the program begins on August 28, which kicks off Walmart’s made-up occasion, “Toy Week.” Offering a layaway helps Walmart—many of its customers live paycheck to paycheck—win over shoppers with limited access to credit, if they have any at all.


And as we saw in July with the Amazon Prime Day, Walmart will not back away from lowering prices as needed.

The earlier start is ostensibly because of the arrival of merchandise related to the upcoming Star Wars movie on September 4. Still, Walmart U.S. just reported its fourth straight quarter of comparable sales growth and expects business to pick up even more quickly. At the same time, it will no doubt face a tough fight for customer dollars.

“Outside of the holiday season, we could be looking at the biggest week of 2015 for toys and we’re giving customers every reason to choose Walmart,” said Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president of toys at Walmart in a statement.

There is a lot at stake: NPD Group has forecast toy sales will be up 6.2% for the full year in 2015. While Walmart has never disclosed the size of its toy business, using the annual reports of Mattel (MAT) and Hasbro (HAS) as gauges, Walmart has roughly twice the market share of Target and Toys R Us. (Last year, Walmart sold $1.1 billion worth of Mattel toys alone.)

No wonder Walmart isn’t playing around.