Ian - WD w Plenti Photos courtesy of Southeastern Grocers
Southeastern CEO Ian McLeod said positive results at Harveys "have given us the confidence to expand to the other banners."

Southeastern to launch Plenti loyalty across brands

Shoppers want grocery discounts, not gas

Southeastern Grocers is replacing its Fuelperks-based reward program with the Plenti coalition scheme, saying the latter provided a substantial increase in user engagement when launched at its Harveys stores late last year.

Customers at all of SEG’s Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo and Fresco Y Mas locations can enroll in the new program starting Wednesday. They can begin earning and using points on April 5. Shoppers may continue to amass FuelPerks through March 26 and redeem them until April 30.

Southeastern CEO Ian McLeod said about 80% of all Harveys customers have engaged with Plenti rewards at Harveys since its October launch — about four times as many as were participating in Fuelperks. McLeod attributed the higher participation levels to the ability to redeem reward points for discounts at Harveys stores under Plenti. Under its prior program, shoppers were eligible only for gasoline discounts.

“Having monitored our customers' buy-in to the existing Fuelperks program we felt as though our loyalty program would benefit from an upgrade, and we wanted to try to make it more compelling. One of the benefits we saw was to develop a relationship with Plenti because our customers were saying that the discount they wanted most of all was on groceries,” McLeod said.

American Express-owned Plenti is the first "coalition" loyalty card in the U.S., launched in 2015 with retailers and services including Rite Aid, Macy's, ExxonMobil and AT&T. Harveys in October became the first grocery chain to participate. The program allows shoppers to earn and redeem reward points among participating companies, although McLeod noted most of the users at Harveys are applying their points for discounts there.

“In the test at Harveys we found that the majority of our customers are redeeming it against groceries rather than gas which is exactly what we were hoping for with the program,” McLeod said. “Those positive results have given us the confidence to expand to the other banners.”

McLeod declined to comment specifically on the performance of basket size or trip frequency at Harveys attributable to the new card.

Josh Berwitz, president, U.S. loyalty, American Express, called the addition of Southeastern “a big milestone for us. We’ve spoken very openly about wanting to add a grocer to the program and bringing in one like Southeastern that has a very large customer base and large footprint is a great addition. We and our partners are all very excited about it.”

Shoppers at Southeastern-owned stores will earn one point for every $2 spent at the store (other participating retailers may have different point accrual equations). Through a partnership with ExxonMobil, those points can be redeemed for fuel discounts at those brands, but as a straight discount and not a per-gallon rate as in the Fuelperks program, which were redeemable at Shell-branded gas stations.

Rewards programs typically require retailers to reimburse their partners for some portion of the earned discount, and/or pay a transaction fee. McLeod declined to provide financial details of the company’s arrangement with Plenti. Berwitz also declined to comment on the specifics of the arrangement.

“We considered other options including not having a program at all and continuing the program we had,” McLeod said. “But after considering those options very carefully and doing our research we found that continuing a loyalty program was the right thing for our business and it offered an approach that our customers would increasingly warm to if the discounts could be available on groceries.”

Fuel discount programs like Fuelperks, run by Dallas-based Excentus, proliferated during the recession as per-gallon gas prices soared. Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie had offered Fuelperks since 2009, prior to their combination under Southeastern.

McLeod said falling gas prices in recent years may have contributed to fewer customers taking advantage of the program, but he also said spending minimums ($50) and 30-day expiration periods for points may have limited their appeal. There is no minimum purchase required to earn points with Plenti, and points expire only after two years.

Excentus was not immediately available for comment.

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