BrainTrust Query: Happy Holiday From a Friend

Discussion
Dec 22, 2011
David Dorf

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt from a current article from Insight-Driven Retailing Blog.

As you may have learned from TV commercials, retailers like Walmart, Toys ‘R’ Us and Kmart are offering layaway programs this holiday season. The programs are welcomed by families living paycheck to paycheck that might not have the cash on hand to take advantage of great deals. They can lock in a good price and pay the amount off over weeks without having to worry about stores selling out of hot items and disappointing the kids.

While this has been great news for many, something even better is happening across America. In Grand Rapids, Michigan a woman entered a Kmart and asked to see a list of layaway accounts so she should could pay a few off. At first the associate thought the lady wanted to take the items, but that was not the case. She chose three accounts that each included kid’s toys and paid them down to a $10 balance.

“They said that someone had paid $180 on my layaway and there was only $10 left,” one of the beneficiaries says of being told about the mystery woman’s gift. “I thought it was a joke. … I thank her. It’s the best gift that I ever received, and it’s the gift of believing in people. … And believing that there’s good out there, ’cause you don’t always see that.”

On the receipt the Secret Santa wrote, “Happy Holiday from a friend.”

Once a local TV station reported the deed, many more such acts of kindness by what are being called “layaway angels” have been occurring across the country. It’s tempting for Kmart to take advantage of the situation to boost its bottom line, but it claims it will not.

“The beauty of this is that it’s organic and coming from the customers and not from us,” Salima Yala, the retailer’s division vice president for layaway told woodtv.com. “It’s being driven by outside the company. It’s just people to people.”

Discussion questions: Could retailers be doing more to tap into the altruistic nature of some shoppers? Should Kmart be touting the incident to encourage other similar charitable efforts or even for its own PR benefit?

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18 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Happy Holiday From a Friend"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I’m warm and tingly. Let the media report on it and tell the chain to shut-up and let it happen spontaneously.

Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
9 years 4 months ago

Not only should they take advantage of promoting a process that people can give back, but also make it even more charitable from their own end. Walmart and Target, for example, do a great job giving back to the community a portion of their profits. Why not use some of that funding to “match” contributions being made for layaway in communities designated by the givers in the same manner they allow customers to identify schools for contributions.

What a great PR and a point of altruism from the perceived “big corporate companies” in the community.

Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

This is a heartwarming story not about the greatness of retail but about the kindness of regular people. To use it to generate publicity or to encourage others to do the same would be in bad taste to say the least.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

All retailers should do anything they can for their own PR benefit. It’s possible the retailers themselves put someone up to it. News stories are much cheaper than advertising. If I was a retailer, $10,000 spent on a secret Santa paying down some layaway accounts makes news nationwide. That is very cost effective advertising!

We have a local retailer that is constantly in the news for selling gas below cost and is always getting fined. Those fines are cheaper than advertising and more effective.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Kmart is spot on…this is people to people. This is not about some corporate advertising or PR campaign. By letting this phenomenon run its natural course, Kmart has garnered millions of dollars in free publicity. Something like this cannot be manufactured. It needs to happen organically.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Retailers are “thought leaders.” And, the retail industry has long been a supporter of charitable practices at the consumer level via signage, in-store support, joint promotions, cash contributions, and more.

Kmart should positively promote the actions of these “secret Santas.” The altruistic behavior of one individual brings out the human characteristics of others. Make it viral. But, keep a monitor on it…what no kind hearted retailer/consumer needs to have spring up is a case of “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I’ll just share one of my “Dad-isms” that seems appropriate for this type of story. He might say “Scanner, do something nice for someone. Don’t get caught, and don’t tell a soul.” This would be my advice for the “Santas” and the retailers. He would also say its never your place to criticize someone else’s giving or their motivations, just check up on your own.

Before touting any incident like this or similar, retailers might follow up on Dad’s advice and quickly realize that these occurrences are not their own. It’s not their place to take advantage of them for their own self gain. Let them be what they are and as they were intended. Be thankful they chose your store and let that be enough.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 4 months ago

When the question is asked — “Could retailers be doing more to tap onto the altruistic nature of some shoppers” — I am reminded of what Oscar Wilde once said: “Charities create a multitude of sins.”

When Kmart or any retailer encourages similar charitable gifting by customers for its own PR benefits a possible sin is created. Instead, perhaps a retailer could promote that it would match any gift to any layaway customer’s account. That would be a charitable gesture but it could be a sin to the shareholders.

As a charitable Christian, a label I generously cast upon myself, I believe the best works of retailers, in matters such as these, are in offering extended payment-layaway programs that help enable more youngsters to receive toys for a Merry Christmas.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
9 years 4 months ago

Are we that skeptical that sinister methods are at play here? Come on people. Kmart brought back layaway in 2009 because their demographic needed it. Others responded in kind, including Target and Walmart in 2010. Cash/check buyers and those with low to poor credit profile/high risk appreciate layaway, because they are not able to acquire a private label card with a high enough open to buy limit to get what they want for family and friends on extended terms, or pay off over time (with high interest rates of course).

Offering layaway causes American consumers who are loathe to actually save for planned purchases to pay it down over time leading up to the 25th. Let’s celebrate generous gift-givers who want to be a Santa for a day and perhaps may not have a family of their own, so they give from the goodness of their heart and in the spirit of the season to those who may not have experienced such charity in recent tough times.

Ed Dunn
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Retailers can create “facilities” to allow this happen but should not make the mistake of making this a marketing campaign.

This is already established at Amazon.com where I would purchase something off someone’s “wish list” and they do not know I’m the one who purchased it for them. For example, I’ve done this for complete strangers who had books about entrepreneurship in their wish list.

Layaway has to come back — it is a great way to guarantee something in inventory can can be claimed and with technology such as social networks and mobile, layaway can be a more fun process with goal reaching, especially with teens on an allowance.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
9 years 4 months ago

Yes, retailers could be doing more to tap into the season of giving. No, they shouldn’t. This is wonderful and heart-warming because it is spontaneous and authentic and has nothing to do with retail. It has to do with spreading kindness and giving to people who could use a little help. Don’t kill it by commercializing it.

John Lingnofski
Guest
John Lingnofski
9 years 4 months ago

“The beauty of this is that it’s organic and coming from the customers and not from us,” Salima Yala, the retailer’s division vice president for layaway told woodtv.com. “It’s being driven by outside the company. It’s just people to people.”

Maybe we should leave it at that.

Mark Wright
Guest
Mark Wright
9 years 4 months ago

Nope. Kmart and other retailers should allow this to happen but not attempt to own it.

Ronnie Perchik
Guest
Ronnie Perchik
9 years 4 months ago

What a great story. It’s encouraging to hear about good deeds!

As marketers, we sometimes forget that the holiday season is not just about shopping and more shopping. Many times, our messages during this season are about savings, new products, featuring holiday-themed jingles, etc.

But I definitely think consumers get into the altruistic mindset (ideally more often than just the holidays). And we can tap into that. For instance, turn this one event of someone paying off the layaway, and promote it via offline and online as a “Kmart Offer” — “Give a Stranger a Gift this Christmas.”

Problem is, these ideas don’t come to us in holiday planning, do they? But they should. And we’re all totally capable of it.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

In my youth, I was taught that the highest form of charity occurs when the giver and recipient are anonymous to one another. The actions by private individuals described here shine brightly in this regard. Kmart is wise to reflect the focus onto the good-doers and minimize responses that may be interpreted as self-serving.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 4 months ago

Kmart and other merchants offering layaway could leverage the kindness of the so-called “layaway angels,” but they should resist the temptation. As the story notes, what’s great about this is that it’s organic. It’s ordinary consumers helping other everyday consumers and demonstrating a true spirit of kindness, generosity and compassion.

There may be some PR benefits for the layaway-offering merchants, but they shouldn’t try to capitalize on it in any way. Instead, retailers should stay on the sidelines and watch as Average Joes and Janes show how awesome they can be.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Here’s what I think happened. Kmart doesn’t want all this inventory in layaway that customers will probably never show up for. Kmart is the secret angel that paid off or down on a few of layaway accounts. Then they leak to the press that the layaway angel paid. This will inspire others to do the same. Win-win marketing strategy. Others show up thinking they are doing something nice, and they are. Customers show up to see if someone paid on their account and take the merchandise home. They only have to do this at a couple of stores and the cost is minimal. Free nationwide press results in free nationwide advertising. I never would think Kmart was this smart, but I have to give them credit.

Carlos Arambula
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Definitively.

Through the actions of a few charitable individuals, Kmart has received millions of dollars in publicity and promotion for their layaway program. Kmart can pay it forward and cut from 10-15% off all layaway accounts across the board, help all of their layaway customers.

There is no need to promote it beyond an announcement, and it can be a one-time event prompted by the altruistic nature of the American public at a time of great need for many.

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