Commentary

Discounting Loyalty: Lessons-A-Plenti

Launched in 2015, American Express’ Plenti rewards program seemed like a great option for the everyday consumer. It enabled members to earn rewards through a variety of purchases rather than being tied to a single company or credit card issuer. Users could join for free and did not need to be an American Express cardholder.

With a lot of initial hype around this new model, Plenti secured deals with companies like Exxon, Rite Aid, Chili’s, Expedia, Hulu and Macy’s.

At first glance, it appeared to be a winning idea—an all-encompassing program, rewarding customers for the purchases they are making every day—but on July 10, American Express shut it down.  

What triggered this downfall? Below are some lessons marketers can learn from Plenti to make sure their rewards programs don’t run the same fateful course.   

Wrong end of the telescope. Plenti failed, in part, due to its looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The program focused on points redeemable in the future rather than experiences delivered in the present.

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Status, points and tiers are all valuable accelerants to loyalty programs, often creating urgency when done correctly. For example, when a customer is almost at a higher tier, she becomes more motivated to make a purchase.

But points are not what generate sustainable return visits as a rule. And repeat customers are the lifeblood of all successful loyalty programs—it’s seldom achieved solely on points.

Customer experience is key. Looking beyond points, the success of a loyalty program is usually the result of outstanding personalized experiences. Customers need to feel recognized, valued and understood, and that happens when a brand engages them as an individual specifically—not as some generic, faceless wallet with hands.

A good customer experience will factor in a customer’s past purchases, build off them, recommend complementary new ones and deliver value commensurate with a customer’s lifetime value (more value for a great customer, less for a newer customer). People like to be treated like they’re special. When they do, they stay. That’s true loyalty—the ultimate two-way street.

Value does not equal discounts.   Discounts seemed to be at the core of Plenti’s rewards program, with bankable points redeemable at a handful of disparate businesses.

However, most companies with the most loyal customers offer discounts sparingly and personalized experiences liberally.

The best restaurants, boutiques or service providers seldom give discounts. What they give customers instead is the level of service and attention and feeling of being “special” that makes what they pay feel worthwhile, and worthy of continued patronage. For example, loyal customers should get access to a sale or limited-time-only content prior to the general population because of their value. Or they might receive services others pay for on-the-house, or move to the front of a customer service queue.

In fact, consulting firm Capgemini found that 80% of consumers are willing to pay more for better customer experience. Companies need to understand that customers look beyond a 20%-off coupon for irrelevant products, and instead prefer to shop with a brand that understands their behavior and preferences.

To sum up what we’ve learned from the failure of the Plenti loyalty program: Don’t ask what customers can do to earn points. Instead, ask what you can do for customers to earn their dollars. With a focus on delivering personalized experiences rooted in each individual customer’s data, the answer is “plenty.”

1 comment about "Discounting Loyalty: Lessons-A-Plenti".
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  1. Daniel Olson from The Loyalty Consultants, August 20, 2018 at 3:33 p.m.

    Patrick,

    You are on point with this. Customers choose a brand for a reason and while discounts are nice there is nothing more powerful than enhancing their experience with the brand they already love. Customers are getting weary of having to earn recognition, they think, and rightly so, that being a good and even great customer should come with even a better way to experience a brand. At The Loyalty Consultants, we believe that any loaylty or customer recognition program should simply be the ulitmate way to exoerience a product or brand. And if done right the value offered by the loyalty program should have customers joining your brand with the intention to be loyal. 

    Dan Olson

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