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American Express’ Plenti rewrites loyalty landscape as mobile’s role explodes

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 3.14.04 PMAmerican Express’ new far-reaching coalition loyalty program featuring brands such as Macy’s and ExxonMobil is a prime example of how mobile is making loyalty bigger and better by making it easier for members to earn rewards from one merchant in real-time and then immediately apply them to a purchase from another.

The new Plenti program will offer a mobile application that will make it easy for consumers to, for example, make a purchase at a gas station and use the rewards they earn towards the purchase of a pair of shoes at a department store or online.  The move has potentially significant implications for marketers’ own loyalty programs as well as the numerous mobile loyalty applications out there, including shopkick and others.

“Plenti has been built as a digital program from the ground up, and the Plenti mobile app plays a big role in how our customers can use the program,” said Jed Scala, head of marketing and product at Plenti. “Plenti members will be able to manage nearly every aspect of their participation in the program from the mobile app.

“Among other features, the app will allow customers to sign up for the program, access their points activity, activate special and personalized offers, access a map that will locate Plenti partners nearby, email customer service, and manage their accounts,” he said. “The app is synced with the other channels, meaning that if a Plenti customer activates an offer on the website, it’ll be activated within the mobile app as well.

“Smartphone use in the US has never been higher, and in fact, the evolution of digital is a key enabler to the success of a coalition loyalty program, and why we think now is the right time for Plenti. For example, the ability to deliver personalized offers through digital – with just offline channels, this would be cost prohibitive, but digital changes the game.”

Coalition loyalty
The Plenti app will be available on iOS and Android.

Coalition loyalty – which enables consumers to earn and redeem rewards across a number of brands through a single program – is popular in other countries but has been slow to catch on in the United States.

Speaking to the significant potential in coalition loyalty, Plenti has already signed a number of major merchants, including AT&T, ExxonMobil, Macy’s, Nationwide, Rite Aid, Direct Energy and Hulu.



The American Express iPhone app

The program, which will launch in the spring, enables members to earn points for purchasing a wide range of products, where they use cash as well as prepaid, debit or credit cards.

Members can also earn additional value through special offers and product discounts.

The program is free to join.

Improved redemption experience
Members will be able to earn points by making purchases at participating merchants, including when signing up for wireless services at AT&T or for eligible charges on their wireless bills, for Nationwide auto or property insurance.

Every 1,000 points will translate to at least $10 in savings.

Members can earn points faster by activating special promotional offers across participating brands or through Plenti’s online offer center and online marketplace.

“Mobile does have role to play in coalition loyalty in enabling an improved redemption experience – which we know from our own research is a key driver of overall program satisfaction – Members can earn points for an apparel purchase at Macy’s, then easily redeem those points later that same day when filling up their vehicle with gas,” said Scott Robinson, senior director of loyalty consulting and design at Bond Brand Loyalty, Toronto. “The important thing partner brands will need to ensure, is that loyalty is driven to their brand, and not just to the coalition program brand.”

New customer acquisition
Plenti does potentially raise some concerns for brands such as Rite Aid that already have their own branded loyalty programs. This could bring some confusion to the experience for consumers who may not understand which program purchases will count towards.

“With partners with their own proprietary programs already, they are setting up potentially complex experiences for members,” Mr. Robinson said. “Mobile can ease what would be a more complex than usual experience.

“It might be a program aid in your hand that is always on can help them navigate the experience.”

Mobile could help the merchants participating in the Plenti program by accelerating efforts to acquire new customers.

“When we look at the role that coalition has played for partners, part of its primary role is to introduce customers at new partners,” Mr. Robinson said. “That still stands to be a benefit here.

“I do think that is uniquely accelerated by mobile,” he said. “When we look at the role that mobile plays in geo-based offers, the coalition will be able to introduce its members to other coalition partners more in real time than is traditionally enabled.”

Mobile will also make it easier for consumers to manage how they earn and redeem rewards by enabling them to pick up their smartphone anytime and engage.

Everyday spending
Plenti reflects how U.S. consumers have become accustomed to leveraging their mobile phones to earn and redeem rewards as well as receive special offers and discounts.

U.S. consumers are ready for a coalition loyalty. Recent research from American Express reveals that 72 percent of U.S. consumers say they would prefer a rewards program that allows them to shop at many stores versus a single brand.

Plenti is made possible by American Express’ acquisition of Loyalty Partner in 2011. The company operates Payback, which manages coalition loyalty programs in Germany, Italy, Poland, India and Mexico and has more than 60 million active members.

“We know our customers use their mobile phones constantly, and they’re looking for a loyalty program that’s simple, easy to use and provides them with little wins from their everyday spending,” Plenti’s Mr. Scala said. “The Plenti app will give them a convenient way to manage their accounts on the go, as well as access useful information and offers to help them maximize the program.

“We want the Plenti app to help our customers get the most out of the program, whether that’s tracking how many points they’ve earned, activating a special offer or finding a Plenti retailer location near them,” he said. “By working closely with our Plenti partners, we intend to continually enhance the app to provide a seamless multi-channel shopping experience for members.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York