AmEx Pulls Plug on Plenti Program, Although Few Are Surprised

The news came on Monday morning as a lot of news seems to come these days—via Twitter. 
“The Plenti program will end on July 10, 2018. On that date, any unredeemed Plenti points will expire. You should use your Plenti points by July 10, 2018. In addition, on July 10, 2018 the @PlentiRewards account will close. For more information please visit .”
Created by American Express, the Plenti program was launched with much fanfare in mid-2015 as the first coalition loyalty program in the United States. Members got $10 for every 1,000 points they earned, which could be spent at any of the program’s partner brands, which at the time were ExxonMobile, Macy’s, Nationwide car-rentals, Direct Energy, AT&T, Hulu and Rite Aid.
The program added other members over the past two years, but struggled to keep the momentum going as other coalition programs copied the concept or brands formed their own loyalty programs. In the past year, the program lost some of its high-profile—and, in some cases, original—members, including Macy’s, Chili’s and Rite Aid.
Southeastern Grocers—parent of Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket, which were all part of the Plenti program—was far enough along on developing its own loyalty program in partnership with Shell Oil that it was able to announce a replacement program as soon as the Plenti announcement was made on Monday. It will honor those with Plenti points.
“While Plenti has grown in scale since its launch, a number of factors, including shifting priorities among some partners and changing competitive conditions in their industries, led American Express to determine that its investments in coalition loyalty initiatives will be better suited to international markets where it manages several large and growing programs,” the company said in its release.
In 2011, AmEx acquired Loyalty Partners, which managed a multi-merchant program called Payback in Germany, India, Poland, Italy, and Mexico. Plenti was its efforts to bring the concept to the U.S.
While the news was somewhat shocking in its suddenness and severity, it wasn’t totally unexpected, said Mark Johnson, CEO of Loyalty360.
“Based on the number of interviews we did with them, they were challenged in that there was always some confusion on how the program worked—most specifically on how it operated with brands that already had a loyalty program or process,” said Johnson. “There seemed to be challenges on who would be the redemption point, the lack of a lack grocery and also other ‘every day’ shopping options. They did have Rite Aid, Macy’s, a car rental and some regional grocers, but branding always seemed to focus on Plenti versus the individual brands.
“Coalition programs can work, yet the implicit and explicit program value needs to be clear. Brands want insight, they want passion, they want and need an expert as to how to create the behavioral-based, emotionally connected engagements that drive members. Plenti was not able to do that.” 
We asked some Loyalty360 members their thoughts on the demise of the Plenti program.
“It is extremely difficult for a coalition program to succeed in the U.S. – especially one with limited offerings like Plenti,” said Howard Schneider, Vice President of Loyalty Strategy at Kobie Marketing. “The key hurdle to success for a coalition program is designing a value proposition that is compelling enough to drive consumer behavior, and makes economic sense for a wide-range of businesses, with a number of different models and margins. There is a big difference in profit margins, purchase patterns and consumer behaviors across the Plenti partners. In addition, another problem is getting consumers’ attention, when most of Plenti’s partners had their own loyalty programs in market. There’s only so much available bandwidth each consumer can handle.

“The really successful coalitions operate in markets like Australia, Canada and the EU, where business categories are much more consolidated,” Schneider added. “The critical balance that successful coalitions must have are earning partners for everyday spend and redemption partners with aspirational rewards. Those coalitions that have worked in the U.S. tend to be cause or community-based, such as Upromise or Box Tops for Education. While coalition programs have certain strengths, it really depends on the market, industry and brand.”

“Coalitions—this broad and unfocused—are an outdated, outmoded idea,” said Sean Claessen, EVP Strategy and Innovation for Bond Brand Loyalty. “For years, our consumer data has reported slumping member satisfaction in these programs in mature markets. I'm not surprised at this outcome—I'm surprised it took this long! In the UK and Canada, they're coming apart at the seams. Many of these participating partners kept their own programs in addition to participation in Plenti—that's the equivalent of keeping your old apartment on the side, after you get married and move in together. A union doomed from the start.”
According to a global study by Bond Brand Loyalty, overall member satisfaction in the coalition category declined from 25 percent in 2016 to 16 percent in 2017.

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