Amex and a group of retailers have launched the first loyalty card in the U.S. that can rack up points at multiple stores. That means no more fumbling with key chains or hunting for membership cards in your wallet.
Called "Plenti," the program will launch later this spring. The initial brands are AT&T, ExxonMobil, Macy's, Nationwide, Rite Aid, Direct Energy and Hulu. Every 1,000 points will earn at least $10 in savings. Each store will run the program differently and decide how many points each dollar you spend is worth.
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“We’re pleased to introduce the first U.S.-based coalition loyalty program, where consumers will have the flexibility and choice across seven well-known brands to earn and use points for purchasing a wide range of products,” said Abeer Bhatia, CEO of US Loyalty, American Express.
Consumer watchdogs are in favor.
"Overall this is a win for consumers if you happen to use one or more of the stores," said Ruth Susswein, a spokeswoman for advocacy group Consumer Action.
But there are things to know.
Consumers can opt out of sharing their personal information, like first name, last name, email address, and phone number, after they sign up by going to Plenti.com. The financial services company will still know about your purchase as part of an anonymous pool of data.
Amex spokeswoman Charlotte Fuller said transaction data is is never shared with the partner companies, however. So if you go to Rite Aid and buy face wash, ExxonMobil won't find out about it.
With any kind of points program, there is always the hazard that you'll earn a bunch of points, only to see them cut in value down the road. Just ask any frequent flying club member. But Emily Collins, a Forrester Research analyst, says that while that's a risk, it isn't greater than any other rewards program and consumers usually earn points faster than with individual store loyalty cards.
Another thing to consider is that the card is only good at the retailers in the program and only one type of store for each category is allowed in. So Macy's will be the only department store at which you can use it. And if you want to earn points on all your batteries and cough drops, you'll need to hit Rite Aid.
For a bit of added convenience and points pooling, consumers are discouraged from comparison shopping. That means they can lose on some savings.
"It's possible it could disincentivize some from shopping at the store they've grown accustomed to," said Susswein. But if one really wanted to buy something at a lower price at another store, she said, "there are enough other loyalty programs that you can still benefit from."