Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
September 1, 2012

Question: We have had good luck over many years with customers paying for their layaway items in full, but right now we have several items on layaway on which no payment has been made for months. Customers are supposed to make a payment every 30 days. If we’ve left messages and heard nothing in return, what do we do with the merchandise and with their deposit and payment money?

Answer: Is your layaway policy spelled out in writing? If not, I would start there and have a simple form the customer signs that lists the item and the date and explains the amount of the down payment required and the monthly payments expected. At the bottom, you could include a statement specifying that if payments are not made every 30 days, or payment is not made in full in six months (or whatever you deem fair), the merchandise will be returned to inventory and they forfeit the money they’ve paid. This way your policy is clear, and if they don’t keep the agreement, you won’t have to wonder what to do.

If there are extenuating circumstances, you can always make an exception and refund a customer’s money. If you have any trepidation about keeping the money, remember there is a cost to you for this service. First, you have to pay for the merchandise; you also have removed the item from the shelves and possibly missed a sale, housed the product for months, and done more than due diligence to contact the customer. Whatever money you get to keep will help cover your purchase and administrative costs.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to