June 20, 2012, 4:48 PM

We’ll drive, so you can save on fuel, Staples offers

The retail chain is focusing on the cost of gas to promote online shopping.

Lead Photo

In a free-shipping promotion running through June 30, office supplies retail chain Staples is running its first marketing campaign that uses the cost of gasoline as a reason why consumers should shop at Staples.com.

“Let us do the driving,” Staples, No. 2 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, says in an e-mail marketing campaign punctuated with a colorful image of pump handles at a gas station. “Free shipping on orders over $20, to help you save at the pump.”

Staples, whose free-shipping minimum order this month is down from its usual $45, isn’t commenting on the campaign’s effectiveness in attracting more shoppers to its e-commerce site or in increasing sales. It’s also promoting free-shipping on orders of more than $20, without mentioning motor fuel costs, on Facebook and through Twitter messages.

Mentions of fuel costs in free-shipping promotions seem to spike whenever gas prices are higher than usual, says Chad White, who monitors e-mail marketing strategies as research director at Responsys Inc., a provider of e-mail marketing services.

But currently, with fuel prices of late still historically high but down from peaks of recent years, few if any other marketers at this point are joining Staples, White says. “Besides Staples, I haven’t seen any gasoline messaging from retailers in a while,” he says.

According to AAA, the U.S. national average for a gallon of gasoline stood at $3.51 on June 19, down 4% from $3.66 on the same date last year.

In the spring of last year, a few retailers ran e-mail promotions that played on consumers’ concerns about gasoline prices. “Paying too much at the pump? Get FREE shipping online,” Petco Animal Supplies Inc. said in an e-mailed promotion, adding the deal covered deliveries of dog food.

But the heyday was in 2008, when a surge in gasoline prices led many retailers to play on fuel prices to promote shipping deals. The Sports Authority, for example, promoted a gas card valued at up to $100 for purchases of golf equipment from Callaway Golf Co. A promotion by eBags Inc. showed the image of a gasoline pump with three sections showing the price and start button for pumping three grades of gasoline ranging from $3.999 to $4.159; they were adjacent to a fourth section with an eBags  logo and a price of $0.000.

Although White says he’s not aware of how well these fuel-related promotions performed in generating business for retailers, he figures they most likely were effective. “The ones in 2008 probably did do better than average because they were topical and tapped into consumer sentiment about gas prices and value,” he says.

Petco is No. 231 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide; Sports Authority is No. 230 and eBags is No. 103.

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