American Express is spearheading a card-based consumer loyalty program featuring a coalition of major retailers, a move that has much in common with many retailers' moves in mobile payments.
AT&T, Exxon Mobil, Macy's, Nationwide, Rite Aid, Direct Energy and Hulu are launching the Plenti loyalty program, giving consumers a loyalty card that works at all of their stores. U.S. Loyalty, a division of American Express, will operate Plenti in issuing the rewards and overseeing the program marketing in collaboration with the coalition companies, as well as securely managing the consumer data collected through Plenti.
In its role, Amex can collect more customer data than it would see by looking solely at its own consumer base, said Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, Calif.-based payments consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC.
"This sounds like, for the card world, what the Merchant Customer Exchange will be for mobile payments," Crone said.
The Merchant Customer Exchange, or MCX, is a mobile wallet initiative formed by mega-retailers including Target and Walmart. MCX's goal is to create a universal mobile wallet that keeps retailers in control of customer data and relationships.
"MCX is trying to use a mobile wallet and cloud-based structure to accumulate the data and to activate the acknowledgement of those credentials at any MCX merchant using their application programming interface," Crone said.
American Express was not available to comment for this article by deadline.
It is not clear why certain retailers are involved in Plenti and others are not, Crone said. The coalition said other retailers would be added in the future.
"Even if they have modicum of success, they have a platform for propelling this when mobile wallets get going," Crone said. "Plenti is a strategic move around building the competency and framework they may need for a mobile wallet anyway."
The ultimate goal may not be to go up against MCX, but American Express knows how to manage data and has a long tradition of managing loyalty programs, said Brian Riley, senior research director and analyst with Boston-based CEB TowerGroup.
"Amex gets a couple of gold stars, right there, before everything starts," Riley said.
U.S. Loyalty has its roots in Amex's 2011 acquisition of Loyalty Partner, a company that operates Payback, which manages multi-partner loyalty programs in Germany, Italy, Poland, India and Mexico with more than 60 million active customers.
"This is a perfect time for a coalition loyalty program in the U.S., as online marketing becomes more efficient and American consumers become more accustomed to rewards programs, special offers and discounts," said Ed Gilligan, Amex's president, in a March 18 press release about the Plenti launch.
The coalition plans to launch Plenti during the Spring, and will provide more details in the coming months.
Plenti participants can earn points, special offers and discounts using any form of payment accepted by the participating brands, including cash, prepaid, debit and credit.