Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Virtual Layaway

As credit-card companies cut customers’ spending limits and home equity lines of credit shrink, an old-fashioned way of paying for goods is making a comeback — but with a 21st-century twist. Tallahassee’s 3-year-old eLayaway gives online shoppers a way to buy leather jackets, cookware, toys and even plastic surgery with monthly payments deducted from their bank accounts.

Sergio Pinon and Matt Ryncarz
eLayaway founders Sergio Pinon (left) and Matt Ryncarz [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
With eLayaway’s service, customers register and enter their bank account number at eLayaway.com. They can then shop online at about 1,200 retailers, most of which are small, independent merchants that pay a monthly fee of $49.95 to $74.95 to participate. Shoppers, who pay a 1.9% service fee, fill their electronic shopping carts, choose a payout periaod and select the day of the month for the automatic deductions. After the final payment is made, the item is shipped to the customer.

Layaway was abandoned by most retailers by the ’70s and ’80s as consumers turned to credit cards. But this past Christmas a few stores — notably Sears and Kmart — promoted the practice in an appeal to cash-strapped shoppers.

“What Sears and Kmart are doing is what we consider antiquated layaway,” says Michael Bilello, senior vice president for business development at eLayaway. He believes that major brick-and-mortar stores will adapt eLayaway’s electronic service. Bilello says the company is in talks with four big retailers about using eLayaway.

At the beginning of 2008, eLayaway had 7,500 registered shoppers. By November, there were more than 75,000, Bilello says. More than 91% of eLayaway orders are completed, he says. Shoppers who decide to cancel their orders or don’t have sufficient funds in their bank accounts pay a $25 cancellation charge plus the 1.9% service fee.

Last fall, the company rolled out eLayawayHealth, eLayawayTravel and eLayawaySports designed to let people pay over time for elective medical treatments, travel and sports tickets. The appeal for healthcare professionals, sports teams, hotels, airlines and others is that, unlike with credit cards, there is no transaction charge to the vendor and, at least at first, eLayaway is waiving its monthly fee. Consumers pay a 1.9% fee on purchases. Cosmetic surgery centers, an eye care center and the largest orthopedic practice in the Midwest have signed up. For travel, Hyatt is the first major participant. And the company signed its first NFL team, the New Orleans Saints, in early December.

Bilello declined to reveal revenue, but at a May 2008 venture capital forum at which eLayaway appealed for funding, the company projected 2008 revenue of about $600,000 and 2009 revenue of $13.2 million. Boasts Bilello, “We will be the next PayPal.”