Even while Sears Holdings (OTC:SHLDQ) struggles to find the cash needed to support ongoing operations, the company has not stopped trying to find new ways to increase sales. That now includes bringing its leasing program, Lease It, online.
That, the company claims, makes it the only national full-service retailer to offer a wide assortment of products for lease both in-store and online. (Though it's worth noting that Sears is not actually administering the program -- it's partnered with WhyNotLeaseIt, which handles the payments, returns, and other financial issues.) Categories covered include home appliances, electronics, lawn and garden, fitness, mattresses, fine jewelry, bicycles, and tools. The Lease It payment option serves as an alternative payment method for customers who either can't qualify for or don't want to use traditional financing, according to Sears.
How does this work?
While it only applies to some products, Lease It requires customers to have a total transaction of at least $199. The consumer adds eligible products to their shopping cart (either a physical or a digital one), and can select the leasing option at checkout.
The program does not require a reference check, but there are income requirements. Consumers agree to a five-month lease term, but have the option to buy the item outright. If they choose to do that in the first 30 days they pay the full price plus 5%, minus any lease payments or money put down. Between 30-60 days they pay an 8% premium, and from 61 -90 days they pay 10% extra.
"This program gives a much-needed financial solution to those unable to purchase on credit, secure credit or, because of immediate need, can't use layaway," said Sears Chief Digital Officer Leena Munjal in a press release.
At the end of five months, customers can opt to renew their lease or return the item as long as it only has normal wear and tear. Consumers also have the option to choose weekly, twice-monthly, or monthly payments. The first payment is due at the time the customer takes possession of the item.
Will this program help save Sears?
Lease It actually seems like it would be a drag on cash in many cases. Since consumers will only be paying for a portion of an item up front, that creates a short-term expense. Ultimately, Sears and Kmart may end up making more money on extended leases or marked up sales of these items, but this program likely won't impact the company's immediate cash needs.
This is an interesting program that charges a premium to those who can least afford it, while offering those customers access to items they may need but not be able to afford to own. It's hard to see leasing making a big impact on Sears' bottom line, especially since there are already companies that specialize in leasing, rentals, and lease-to-own.
Sears management deserves credit for leaving no stone unturned, but this is a niche offering little at best. Customers may like it -- in the way that layaway has been popular during the holiday season -- but there's simply not a big under-served market for the company to claim here.