How ExxonMobil used Plenti's failure to rebuild its own rewards

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American Express' multi-merchant rewards coalition, Plenti, may have failed, but ExxonMobil never gave up on the program's potential.

The gas station learned many valuable lessons from Plenti, which offered instant rewards and point-redemptions at the pump. This encouraged repeat behavior, because of the frequency of fill-ups.

Other Plenti participants — including Macy’s, Enterprise Car Rental and Chili’s — did not necessarily enjoy the same shopper habits that ExxonMobil did. And because Plenti promised that only one company from each merchant category could participate (so that merchants didn't feel like they were footing the bill for a competitor's rewards), one brand's experiences didn't necessarily apply to another's.

That imbalance led to the program’s demise last year. Amex launched Plenti in 2015.

ExxonMobil saw enough repeat usage from Plenti—combined with the gas station's own Speedpass+ mobile payments app launched in 2016—to make it worth migrating millions of Plenti users to a new, proprietary loyalty program that it has continued to develop over time.

A key goal was creating a path for Plenti customers to join the new loyalty program and making it more enjoyable to accumulate and redeem rewards, said Devin Miller, consumer marketing manager for ExxonMobil America.

"Fuel is never exciting to buy, there's no prize, but we can offer consumers savings," Miller said.

A lot of shoppers agreed to migrate over, he said, though he declined to say how many. At its peak, Plenti said up to 30 million consumers had enrolled in the program, though many of those failed to steadily earn or redeem points.

ExxonMobil encouraged Plenti members to roll over points they had earned within the last 12 months of the dying program into the new Exxon Mobile Rewards+, which launched last year. The new program enables users to earn 3 cents per gallon for routine fill-ups, triple the rate available under Plenti.

The replacement program also awards extra points for buying premium-grade fuel, plus 2 points per dollar spent on food and car washes, expanding its uses.

With its new flexibility ExxonMobil can initiate more short-term promotions through its loyalty program, which consumers have responded to positively, Miller suggested.

This month ExxonMobil introduced a new “premium” status within ExxonMobil Rewards giving users double the usual number of points when they purchase at least 8 gallons of premium gasoline three times a month. To kick it off, all existing loyalty program members received instant premium status beginning July 1 and lasting through Oct. 31, enabling those members to earn double points on all premium gas purchases.

ExxonMobil in the past few years has consolidated its loyalty and payments program within the Speedpass+ app, which supports in-app payment at the pump with a variety of payment methods including third-party mobile wallets, Apple Watch and the ExxonMobil Smart Card (a private-label closed-loop credit card issued by Citi). Consumers also may apply for the Citi card within the Speedpass+ app.

Loyalty program members may redeem rewards in 100-point increments worth $1 each, while Citi’s private-label card customers receive 6 cents off per gallon or 12 cents for premium gas, which appears as cash-back credit on their monthly statement, according to Miller.

Speedpass+, which dates back to 1997 when it operated as a wireless key fob, now includes several streamlined payment features.

Users opening the Speedpass+ app can use it to find the nearest ExxonMobil station, and when they arrive at the station they select which pump and payment method they want to use. Absent geolocation services, a QR code feature within the app can be used to select a pump. Customers can choose whether to get a paper receipt, and the app stores all transactions and loyalty point activity.

Plenti helped lay the foundation for getting consumers in the habit of earning points with every fill-up, but taking the loyalty program private enriched their experience, Miller said.

“Consumers like having control over all their payment and loyalty options within the app and it saves steps,” Miller said.

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Loyalty and rewards Retailers Mobile payments Contactless payments ExxonMobil American Express