The Plenti loyalty program unfolded two years ago with a new twist on plastic card-based rewards—a multi-merchant coalition in which participants were given exclusivity within their market and consumers could earn points at one retailer and redeem them at another.
Plenti has grown under the watch of American Express management to the tune of 36 million shoppers making use of the program in the past year, but it had its share of early confusion among consumers who questioned its deliberate lack of merchant participants.
In securing Southeastern Grocers LLC this week as its first grocery participant, Plenti now has a mix of basic life essentials to offer consumers through its gasoline, grocery, clothing and pharmacy retailers, among others. Though Plenti still promises merchants exclusivity within their category and region, the addition of Southeastern Grocers will add 700 more store locations and potentially millions of consumers to the program, said Josh Berwitz, president of U.S. loyalty for American Express.
"We expect Southeastern Grocers will add significant scale and Plenti membership around the southeast," Berwitz said. "They have a strong and loyal customer base actively engaged in their loyalty programs."
The Winn-Dixie, Harveys, BI-LO and Fresco y Mas grocery chains operate under the Southeastern Grocers umbrella and will upgrade their own loyalty programs through Plenti, beginning April 5.
The presence of Southeast Grocers opens the door for the program to seek other major chains in other parts of the country, a move that would fall in line with Plenti's policy on exclusivity.
"The grocery category in the U.S. is highly regionalized, and Plenti expects to expand the coalition with new grocery partners over time in other regions across the country," Berwitz said. "We know many regional grocers are consistently evaluating loyalty and we believe our coalition model is especially appealing."
Because loyalty and rewards are so integral to grocery shopping, it is important for Plenti to not let the exclusivity rules get in the way of bringing on other chains in other parts of the country, said Brian Riley, director of card services for Mercator Advisory Group.
"Certainly within the grocery business you have companies that dominate certain regions and would not compete against each other," Riley said. "In that case, there is no reason to limit the participants in the program."
Any loyalty program would benefit from having supermarkets on board because "there's significant spend there, north of $4,000 per household annually," Riley said.
Plenti members include American Express, AT&T, Exxon Mobil, Macy's, Nationwide, Rite Aid, Direct Energy, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hulu, Expedia and Chili's Grill & Bar.
In addition to managing the program, American Express two years ago created a cobrand Plenti credit card for consumers participating in the program.
As with many new programs, consumers offered mixed reviews for Plenti when it first came on the scene in 2015. Many were confused about how to earn and redeem points, saying some merchants had caveats about use of the rewards at their stores. Some also complained about the registration process in which another card had to be linked to the Plenti card.
"It's a great idea and it has American Express behind it, but they missed some practical applications early on it to make it easier for users," Mercator's Riley said.
Still, members have so far earned more than 40 billion points, translating into at least $400 million in value, and have redeemed more than 90 million offers, Berwitz said.
Plenti has also made some adjustments in creating the Plenti Online Marketplace, where members can shop online and redeem offers and earn extra points, while participating merchants have established special deals within their stores to provide more Plenti points at any given time on certain products.
In addition, Plenti does not rely solely on the presentation of a plastic membership card. The Plenti app allows users to store their virtual Plenti card in iOS and Android wallets. Users can also provide a phone number as a Plenti ID at the point of sale.