The American Express-led Plenti loyalty coalition in the United States that counts Macy's, AT&T, and ExxonMobil as partners got off to a rousing start when it launched in May of last year. The programme signed up more than 20 million members in its first two months, reaching around 16% US household penetration. While news of the programme's performance since then has been scant, at least one of the founding partners is pulling back: AT&T sent out a recent email to its customers announcing that it was devaluing its programme participation. What does this move mean for the future of Plenti? Stay tuned.
Here's the money quote from the AT&T email:
"Currently, as a member of Plenti with an account linked to your AT&T wireless service, you are eligible to receive Plenti points for eligible charges on your AT&T wireless service bill enrolled in paperless billing. You are also currently eligible to receive 1 Plenti point for every $1 spent on eligible merchandise purchased at att.com and at AT&T-owned locations.
"Effective September 1, 2016, AT&T is changing the way Plenti points are awarded under the current terms of the programme. These new changes mean that you may no longer receive Plenti points, or may receive fewer Plenti points, for your monthly wireless service charges. These changes will also alter the way points are awarded for purchases of eligible merchandise, such that you will be eligible to receive 1 Plenti point for every $2 spent on eligible merchandise."
That's a significant programme devaluation. Industry observers promptly began speculating that the change was related to the recent launch of AT&T's own AT&T THANKS programme - perhaps the carrier is shifting its marketing dollars from Plenti to its own proprietary loyalty efforts? According to a report in FierceWireless, AT&T says no:
"An AT&T spokesman confirmed the move [to devalue Plenti] but said it is unrelated to the carrier's 'thanks' programme, which was announced earlier this year and will launch in two weeks. 'Plenti and AT&T THANKS are different programmes,' a spokesman told FierceWireless via email. 'Plenti is a points-based programme that customers must enroll in to allow them to accrue points based on spend. AT&T thanks is an automatic customer benefit programme that provides customers perks just for being part of AT&T.'"
Is AT&T's reduced investment in Plenti a sign of trouble for the fledgling coalition? Absent any hard data or comment from the partners, speculation isn't helpful. However, our own Bill Hanifin, Wise Marketer's North American Practice Leader, has been studying Plenti for the past year and has concluded that the programme's structure may offer fewer benefits for partners than does a "classic" loyalty coalition such as those operated by Nectar in the United Kingdom or AIR MILES in Canada. Money quote from Bill:
"Overall, to me, Plenti is closer to a cooperative merchant funded rewards programme than a true coalition programme where the brands are leveraging collected member and transaction data to execute a cross-promotion strategy to drive business across the network. We also know that their grocery relationship is really a currency swap of coupons for points facilitated by SavingStar.com. Maybe this the best that can be managed in the US, but it still is not an ideal situation."
The big question resulting from the Plenti launch was whether a US coalition could thrive without an anchor grocery sponsor. If the AT&T move tells us anything, it's that the jury is still out.
- Rick Ferguson