The coalition rewards programs have had some success gaining traction in Europe, as American Express’ experiment with launching one stateside seems to have come to an end.
Plenti, the Amex frequent shopper program, brought a lot of high-profile merchants like Macy’s, Rite Aid and ExxonMobil under a single rewards heading – and then distributed Plenti points to consumers who frequented the right merchants.
“It will really be the first time where U.S. consumers, on a single program, can take the rewards they’ve earned in one industry and take it to another,” Abeer Bhatia, then-CEO and founder of Plenti at American Express, told PYMNTS shortly after the program first launched in 2015.
The program, according to Amex, was similar in structure to coalition loyalty plays it had successfully launched in Italy, Germany, Poland, India and Mexico. It was, at first, quite heavily promoted as a way to give non-credit card customers access to credit card-like rewards for loyalty.
“It all boils down to our philosophy at American Express, which is that we want to be a welcoming company and we want to help others to enjoy the products and services American Express provides, and we didn’t really want it to be limited to the payments card or credit card population,” Bhatia told Karen Webster in a later interview. “We want to talk to a broader audience than we would with our payments product, and we saw the coalition space as a big opportunity to do that. It allows us to zone in on what we do, because loyalty is a big part of our core payments business, and so we can leverage that to build a better experience.”
And at first, it looked like that “better experience” that American Express wanted to open up to the masses was getting some workable traction. The program managed to sign up some very recognizable first-tier merchant partners and, according to internal reporting, initial sign-up among consumers was actually stronger than Amex had initially intended.
Ultimately, however, Plenti never really managed to make a dent in consumers’ shopping habits – they may have signed up to receive their swipeable plastic Plenti card, but they didn't use them all that often.
Paired with that somewhat lackluster reaction among consumers was a merchant base that quickly grew a bit disillusioned with the service. By 2017, retailers began dropping out – and by the beginning of this year, AT&T, Chili's Alamo, Direct Energy, Enterprise, Expedia, Hulu, Nationwide and Macy's had all indicated their intentions to leave the Plenti platform.
At this point, the service seemed to be on life support.
As retailers were abandoning ship on the platform, it also became apparent that the Plenti coalition model was creating a business problem for some of its participants. One Macy’s source told PYMNTS that the rewards offered consumers an "asymmetrical" opportunity to input and extract value.
Consumers could — and apparently often did — generate points at “staple” shops like grocery stores and gas stations, places where points are relatively easy to collect, before expending those points at Macy’s, where they could be used against a wider range of goods. That was a good deal for consumers, but not a great deal for Macy’s – particularly because it didn't do much in the way of driving new traffic into the store. The department store brand, when it announced it was leaving the coalition, unsurprisingly noted that it had decided to reset its entire loyalty offering to focus more on rewards than discounts — and to be built entirely around its newly launched Star Rewards program.
The writing seemed to be on the wall at that point, and as of this week, American Express officially pulled the plug. For all the fanfare the service entered the market with, it quietly slipped away with a humble tweet announcing its demise.
As of July 10, Plenti will be done for good, according to that tweet from American Express.
American Express has said it will refocus its energies on managing its coalition loyalty programs in international markets.