Walmart’s New Loss Leader: Cheap Gas

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It’s a classic retail technique: Attract shoppers by lowering prices on certain items, with the idea that once customers are in the store, they’ll buy full-priced items as well. The product being discounted in Walmart’s new “Rollback” promotion is an unusual one, though.

It’s gasoline. All summer long, Walmart customers can save 10¢ a gallon by paying with a reloadable gift card, MoneyCard, or Walmart credit card at participating Walmart and Murphy USA gas stations. The offer is aimed to appeal to folks in the heartland hit hard by high gas prices, and unfortunately for some, it’s only valid for folks who live in 18 heartland states: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Noticeably absent on this list are any states in the Northeast or West Coast. But at participating locations, drivers can knock an easy dime off the price of every gallon they pump from June 29 through September 30. There are no major restrictions or purchase requirements—other than the acceptable payment systems mentioned above, of course.

And why is Walmart mandating specific payment systems to get the deal? Why can’t someone paying cash or a random debit or credit card to get the same discount? Mostly, because even though there’s no rule stating that a customer must go inside a Walmart for the discount, that’s what Walmart knows will happen if the customer needs one of its gift cards or MoneyCards before filling up. Walmart also wants to encourage shoppers to grow accustomed to spending with these cards, which obviously benefit the world’s largest retailer. And if you have a Walmart credit card in your wallet? You’re probably already one of Walmart’s best customers.

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Other large retailers and supermarkets are known to discount gas in order to lure customers in to shop. Gas stations at warehouse clubs like BJ’s and Costco often sell cheaper gas to members, and grocery chains such as Stop & Shop discounts the per-gallon price of gas based on how much a customer spends inside the store—10¢ off for every $100 spent, typically.

The point of all of these programs is to get customers who need to fill up to also “stop and shop.”