Consumer Nation

Toys 'R US Unveils Christmas Savers Club

Retailers are continuing to dust off Depression-era tactics, hoping to attract frugal-minded shoppers by appealing their desire to be spend more carefully.

Toys"R"Us Christmas Savings Card
Source: Toys"R"Us

Toys 'R Usis expected to announce its first-ever Christmas Savers Club, becoming the latest retailer to offer customers the option of putting away money for the holidays.

Shoppers who sign up for the Toys 'R Us program between now and Oct. 16, 2010, will receive a 3 percent bonus based on the total funds they save.

Customers can load as much as $2,500 on each Christmas Savers Club card—for a total of as much as $75 in savings. The program, which has no fees, can be started with as little as $1, and the value loaded onto the card never expires. There are no other rules as to how much or how often savers need to contribute to the card. However, shoppers won't be able to use the funds on the card until after Oct. 31, 2010.

Christmas savings clubs are not a new idea. They became a popular way for consumers to save money during the Great Depression. At that time, most of the programs were run by banks, which often required consumers to make weekly payments into the club. Many of these programs fell out of favor over time, because the banks loaded them with fees, and consumers often had other options for saving their money.

Last year, Sears and Kmart seized upon the idea, and allowed shoppers to load up a special card and earn a 3 percent bonus, up to a maximum return of $100.  A Sears Holdings

spokeswoman said the retailer is planning to offer the program to its customers once again for this upcoming holiday season.

Both savings clubs and layaway—another Depression-era retail tactic that has received renewed interest from consumers since the economic downturn began—are particularly appealing to consumers who either don't want to put purchases on their credit cards, or who have found themselves in a position where they no longer can get credit.

"Knowing that people are very budget-conscious, Toys 'R Us wants to provide multiple ways to help our customers in any way that we can," said Greg Ahearn, senior vice president of Marketing and E-Commerce at Toys 'R Us.

Toys are often a staple for parents and other holiday gift-givers, and although 3 percent isn't a huge amount of money compared with promotional offers retailers typically offer, it is more than the interest most people are currently receiving from typical bank savings accounts.

Needham & Co. analyst Sean McGowan said he sees the Toys 'R Us program as yet another way the toy retailer is working to increase the frequency of customer visits.

Toys 'R Us has been boosting its offerings of consumable products, McGowan explained. He cited items such as diapers and formula as well as paper towels as examples.

"These are things that consumers would typically run to a convenience store or to a discounter to buy," he said.

Programs like the Christmas Savers Club could inspire additional visits, and any sales made at that time would be largely incremental, he said.

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