The concept of a multi-merchant rewards program appeals to cardholders, but the widely advertised Plenti program managed through American Express has not yet reached its potential, according to new data from Auriemma Consulting Group.

Part of the issue is the rewards structure; cardholders are interested in earning rewards for spending, but generally prefer lower upfront prices, Auriemma said. Another factor is the structure of Plenti limits the number of brands that can participate. To lure merchants, Plenti promises they will be the exclusive participant in their vertical (ExxonMobil is the only gas station in Plenti, Rite Aid is the only drug store, etc.).

If a program like Plenti could attract more merchant participants, it would bode well for the program overall, as 81% said they would be more likely to use the Plenti card if more merchants were involved to earn and redeem points.

Lower prices are more attractive than earning points to the vast majority of debit cardholders at 86%, a number that increases to 92% among parents with children who are minors. In producing its fourth-quarter Payments Report, Auriemma compiled research on bank and alternative provider-driven payment programs or technology from 500 online interviews with debit card users in the U.S. in September.

American Express announced in March 2015 its administrative role in the card-based customer loyalty Plenti program for a coalition of retailers. In its role, American Express handles the reward-point issuing, secures the consumer data and performs the marketing tasks for the program.

According to Auriemma's research, just more than one-quarter of cardholders are familiar with Plenti, but only 15% say they are enrolled in the program.

Even though enrollment figures in Plenti are low, almost half of respondents say they prefer a coalition rewards program, compared to 31% who prefer a merchant-specific program, the report stated.

Approximately 25% of cardholders say they would be inclined to spend with Plenti partners Rite Aid and Hulu to take advantage of the rewards.

In most cases, rewards generate little enthusiasm from cardholders. More than three-quarters, at 76%, of respondents say they will enroll in loyalty programs whenever they are offered because they "might as well earn rewards for spending."

In other payments service areas, person-to-person payments are gaining traction, with a third of all debit cardholders using at least one P2P service.

They generally agree that P2P apps have practical uses, including remittance, keeping track of money owed to friends or family, facilitating the splitting of dinner checks or paying landlords and small merchants. About 38% of P2P users have used the service for a commercial transaction.

The expansion into commercial usage, combined with higher consumer willingness to recommend the service to others, bodes well for P2P payment growth, Auriemma said.

PayPal had the most familiarity among survey participants as a mobile wallet or payment app at 64%, with Facebook second at 49%. Google Wallet (39%), Apple Pay (37%), Android Pay (37%) and Samsung Pay (21%) were the only others above 20%.

As expected, consumers showed little familiarity, at only 8%, with CurrentC, the Merchant Customer Exchange's mobile wallet, which is still in testing. CurrentC got a brief burst of publicity in late 2014 when some of its merchant participants blocked Apple Pay transactions as a way to honor their exclusivity agreements with CurrentC.

Of all of the P2P payment apps, PayPal rated highest in terms of current usage, with 26% saying they currently used the app. Facebook was second at 15%.

Nearly one in five cardholders, at 19%, are currently using one P2P app, and 16% are using two or more. Among the 49% of cardholders who have tried at least one app, 22% have tried two apps and 34% have tried three or more.

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