November 8, 2004, 12:00 AM

Staples launches online rebate service for all channels

In a system designed to prevent fraud while speeding up the delivery of rebate checks, Staples now lets its store, web and catalog customers enter rebate information online to receive checks within three weeks, it said today.

In a system designed to prevent fraud while speeding up the delivery of rebate checks, office supplies retailer Staples Inc. now lets its store, web and catalog customers enter rebate information online to receive checks within three weeks, it said today.

“We know that customers hate rebates, because retailers put them through the ringer to get rebates,” Jim Sherlock, director of sales and merchandising, tells InternetRetailer.com. The retail industry average for delivering rebate checks is 10-13 weeks from the date of purchase, but Staples mails checks within three weeks and as soon as the day after a purchase, he adds.

The Staples Easy Rebates program will allow for online submission of rebates for about 80% of the 8-10-million products it sells each year with rebates, Sherlock says.

Staples decided a year ago to offer a rebate program that would be both easier for customers and resistant to fraud, Sherlock says. Under more conventional rebate systems, customers must mail in the UPC label associated with the purchased product, a process open to fraud by consumers who attempt to duplicate UPC labels, he adds.

Staples worked with Parago Inc., a marketing technology company, to develop a rebate program that works without UPC numbers. Each product in a rebate program is assigned a unique 17-digit identification code that can be used only once in each promotion, plus a separate code assigned to the promotion program itself.

Consumers enter those two code numbers onto a Staples Easy Rebates web page, then receive an instant e-mail confirmation with a link to a web page where they can track the status of their rebate. To guard against consumers who might to try return a product for credit and also receive a rebate, Staples withholds the rebate check until the end of a 14-day return period. If a product is returned within that period, the consumer receives an e-mail noting that the rebate is no longer valid.

Because rebates are funded by manufacturers, Staples settles with its suppliers the after-rebate cost of products. But it relies on Parago to actually send the rebate checks to consumers. Staples forwards the value of each week’s rebates to Parago, which then cuts and mails individual rebate checks to consumers.

Staples also forwards data on sales and product returns to Parago every two hours through an FTP connection, enabling Parago’s software to determine which rebate checks should go out every day.

The safeguards against fraud have convinced all suppliers who engage in Staples’ rebate programs to participate in the EasyRebate system, Sherlock says, noting that about 90% of those suppliers are in the program and the remainder plan to participate.

Sherlock says that other retailers tend to limit online submission of rebates to low-ticket items, but Staples allows for online submission of rebates valued at up to $200.

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