Loblaw Companies Limited (Loblaw), a grocery giant with multiple brands across Canada completed a purchase of Shoppers Drug Mart in 2014. On February 1, 2018, Loblaw merged their grocery loyalty program, PC Plus TM/MC, with their Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum® program under a combined new program branded PC Optimum, across 12 retail brands and over 2,500 stores, with additional online purchasing power.
By Margaret Meraw
Unfortunately, the launch of the new and combined PC Optimum program was less than “optimum”. Beginning on launch day, the new combined program was plagued with several issues including:
- New website crashed for several hours
- “Contact Us” option on the website intermittently not working
- Difficulty downloading the mobile application
- Call Centre overwhelmed with inquiries causing long wait times, and representatives unprepared to respond to all issues etc.
- Inability to link previous PC Plus and Optimum accounts to new PC Optimum account
- Store employees unable to assist with member issues
- Some members not earning points in the new program
- Loss of personalized offers
- Missing points/ points not transferred
- Millions of earned points fraudulently redeemed during the transition due to an apparent account takeover, including one member with over 1 million points (over $1,000 value)
- Other issues not listed above.
PC Optimum worked diligently to respond through Twitter and Facebook, including videos to respond to known issues, questions and provide status updates. Some of the initial program launch issues have since been resolved with the ramping up of resources against the Call Centre, their technology and ability to respond to member issues. However, many critical issues remain unresolved, this is especially significant for members with issues related to missing points, fraudulently redeemed points, still not earning points in the program, and/or lack of personalized offers. Many members remain frustrated and continue to vent through both social and mass media channels.
I have worked on numerous program launches, mergers and account conversions and no company should expect any launch to be perfect but having such a lengthy list of launch issues is definitely unusual. I should note that I was able to transition my PC Plus and Optimum accounts to PC Optimum almost seamlessly, unfortunately, issues are more readily publicized in media. Of course, the greater the number of issues, the more likely the media coverage will be negative, thereby impacting a brand’s reputation.
I envisage additional due diligence and planning against the possible problems that could arise during the launch and transition would have been beneficial. Loblaw will most certainly have had detailed transition plans, but it is apparent additional assessments and planning could have been more effectively coordinated. Often companies become so focused on creating the new program, the efforts required to manage the conversion of customer data and point balances from existing programs is garnered less oversight.
When considering launching a new program, especially when conversion of member data and loyalty balances is required, companies should consider completing a detailed walk-through of all member scenarios. A few examples are below:
- Assess all member touch points (in-store, online, call centre, website, mobile application etc.) and ensure sufficient training to manage all components of the program conversion and launch
- Identify in advance members who had not provided sufficient profile information (e.g. full name, email, phone # etc.) which could impact the transition to a new program account, and perhaps restrict these members from linking their account/ transferring points online and instead direct them to the Call Centre to provide additional information; thereby reducing the risk of account errors and/or account takeover
- Create a test plan that covers all scenarios for opening accounts, linking accounts, transferring points, and updating profile information across all channels. Include accounts in which you expect both positive and negative results, as well as regression testing where no change is expected
- Complete “mock” conversion of data and program set-up to identify potential issues and mitigating actions prior to launch
- Complete several levels of balancing the accounts and points moved from the previous program to the new program.
Nonetheless, the above is all in hindsight when viewing the PC Optimum program launch. Therefore, will the issues at launch permanently impact the strength of the new PC Optimum program and ultimately Loblaw company brands? This is highly unlikely. Loblaw reaction to date shows a resolve to ensure all issues are managed to effective resolution, though the sooner issues are resolved, the better.
Independently, PC Plus and Optimum were already very popular and ranked among the top loyalty programs in the Canadian market. Once the launch and transition issues are in the past, PC Optimum will be in a position to become one of the top loyalty programs in Canada alongside several strong credit card affiliated programs, Aeroplan, WestJet Rewards®, SCENETM, AIR MILES®, Esso Extra®, etc. In fact, Esso recently announced leaving the Aeroplan program to join the PC Optimum program as of June 1st, making PC Optimum a contender for not only similar brand programs but also coalition or partner programs.
Margaret Meraw is the Founder & Owner of Effective Execution Consulting Company based out of the Toronto area and is a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP) (MMeraw.EECC@outlook.com).