When American Express launched the Plenti coalition loyalty program in the United States 18 months ago, the biggest question for industry observers was whether or not the coalition could thrive without a grocer anchor - typically, grocers provide the critical mass for coalition programs in other markets around the world. In a new interview with Pymnts.com, Plenti executives proclaim the fledgling coalition a success.
By Rick Ferguson
Pymnts reports that Plenti now boasts 36 million active members in the US who have collectively earned over 40 billion points - roughly $400 million in cash value - and redeemed over 90 million offers. As for the coalition sponsors, at least one is pleased: According to Plenti, sponsor ExxonMobile can attribute a 1 percent sales increase across participating fuel sites to the program. Money quote from Plenti business development executive Josh Berwitz:
"We launched May of last year. We're very pleased with the progress of the program and where it is right now... I think the partners in the program have been very pleased with the redemptions in the form of points that are coming to them. Coupled with the sales, the new customers and enhanced engagement that come as the result of the program - they're seeing a lot of value."
Department store retailer Macy's has also cited Plenti as a factor in its recent better-than-expected earnings. On the other hand, telecom provider AT&T devalued their Plenti participation over the summer, a move generally regarded by analysts as a sign that the program wasn't meeting partner expectations. Money quote #2 from a Payments Journal exchange featuring Mercator Advisory Group executive Raymond Pucci:
"I just received the same email notification from AT&T Mobility regarding Plenti points - which, by the way, I have never used. I recall getting signed up for Plenti when I bought an iPhone at an AT&T store late in 2015. The sales rep was enthusiastic about the loyalty program but had scant details about it. In the ensuing weeks, I received a few cursory emails welcoming me to Plenti and naming participating merchants. None of them were retailers where I shopped regularly if at all."So my Plenti membership has been gathering dust in my virtual collection of loyalty programs. Plenti seems to suffer from a lack of enthusiasm from the merchant partners. What was supposed to have been a strong coalition is weakened by a lack of marketing clarity and limited perceived value from a consumer's view. It's no surprise that AT&T is taking steps to devalue the program, and it seems likely that others may follow suit."
So is Plenti growing steadily, as Berwitz claims? Or is AT&T's summer devaluation the canary in the coal mine for the young coalition? The truth is probably in the middle; the history of coalition development around the globe teaches us that coalitions often suffer growing pains, with unhappy sponsors departing as new ones join. The newest partner to join Plenti, fast-casual restaurant chain Chili's, represents the program's first foray into the dining category. We'll continue to follow the progress of the first national loyalty coalition to launch in the US - as industry participants, we're rooting for its success.
Rick Ferguson is CEO and Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group.