HOUSTON, Texas: Not since the presidency of George H W Bush – he who sired Dubya – have US shoppers been lured by so-called 'layaway' promotions: a method of buying an item without paying the entire cost at once.

The sales enticement, last practiced by major retailers in 1989, lost favor as credit cards became ubiquitous. Now, after a lapse of nineteen years, it has been reintroduced by the mighty Sears retail group as it struggles to persuade US consumers to open their purses in the face of recession.

Layaway differs from instalment plan purchases in that customers pay a deposit on an item but don't receive it until payment in full has been made. 

More than a week before Thanksgiving, Sears decided to resuscitate the scheme, as did its sister company, Kmart, which began touting its holiday layaway program last month.

"The customers were saying we really need this as a way to manage the holidays," said Sears spokesman Tom Aiello: "It's almost that there's this new wave of frugality."

Philip R Nulman, ceo of full-service marketing and branding agency Nulman Group confirms Aiello's diagnosis: "The primary reason layaway is resurrected is purely economics," he says. "From a marketing standpoint, it's become salvation for some of the retailers this holiday season."

Data sourced from Houston Chronicle; additional content by WARC staff