Loblaw’s amalgamation of PC Plus and Shoppers Optimum into the new PC Optimum rewards program has been far from flawless. Ever since the Feb. 1 merger, social media sites have been abuzz with customers lamenting lost or stolen points, purportedly personalized offers that no longer reflect their shopping history, and problems collecting points.
But Loblaw’s announcement on Tuesday that PC Optimum members will be able to earn points at Esso gas stations starting this summer suggests good things are in store for those who endure the program’s bumpy rollout, experts told Global News.
“I think this is the first step in PC Optimum growing into something bigger than they’ve always been,” said Patrick Sojka, founder of RewardsCanada.ca. “I think we’re going to see more partners come on board very soon.”
The tie-up between PC Optimum and Esso represents Loblaw dipping its feet into what Sojka calls “coalition programs,” which offer members a variety of ways to earn points across multiple types of retailers.
That’s the model already employed by programs like Air Miles and Aeroplan, but Loblaw may have a significant advantage over them, according to Robert Levy, president of Toronto-based BrandSpark International.
“I think the link between PC Optimum and Esso could be a big game-changer, changing the dynamics of consumer loyalty in Canada since this would challenge loyalty programs like Air Miles and Aeroplan whose core business is the loyalty program and their source of revenue is only from selling their points,” Levy told Global News via email. “Now we have a major retailer representing over 2,500 stores affecting Canadians coast to coast for almost everything they buy now being able to collect and redeem on one program.”
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Because of this, Loblaw may be able to offer partnering companies a cheaper deal than either Air Miles or Aeroplan, which would help quickly lengthen the list of places were Canadians would be able to earn PC Optimum points, Sojka said.
Loblaw’s win with Esso, which builds on the alliance with Mobil gas stations, has already proven costly for rival Aeroplan, which lost its 14-year partnership with the gas station chain.
The loyalty program told members on Monday via email that Esso stations would cease to issue Aeroplan points after May 31.
The PC Optimum program is already available at Mobil gas stations.
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The PC Optimum launch in February has been a rocky one for many customers.
Like many, Nabil Diab of London, Ont., took to Twitter to express his frustration after $900 worth of groceries at Loblaw-owned Real Canadian Superstore earned him only 12,000 points, equivalent to $12 in redeeming value.
When he contacted the PC Optimum customer service, Diab, a business consultant, was told he would be able to earn more generous rewards by loading customized offers before shopping or by using a PC Financial credit card.
Diab, though, told Global News he’s been receiving offers for products he never buys and isn’t interested in trying out, an issue others have flagged on social media.
Loblaw is experiencing technical issues with a “small portion” of customers’ shopping history, spokesperson Catherine Thomas told Global News.
“We believe that should be fixed shortly. In the meantime, we’re letting them know to continue to use their card so that their current transactions and preferences are reflected with their historical ones,” Thomas wrote via email.
But Diab said he was unimpressed with Loblaw’s handling of his complaint, adding that he felt he was “lectured” about the use of personalized offers.
“The program should be welcomed by the customer, not the customer welcomed by the program,” he said.
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Karri Ojanen, a customer experience designer based in Toronto, Ont., recalled a similar experience.
Several weeks after the PC and Optimum merger, he started noticing that his wife’s PC Financial Mastercard, unlike his own, didn’t seem to be earning points on purchases at Loblaws grocery stores and Loblaw-owned No Frills supermarkets.
When he contacted the PC Optimum customer service, he was referred to PC Financial, the financial service brand of Loblaw, only to be told he should, once again, submit his complaint to PC Optimum.
The issue turned out to be that Ojanen’s wife hadn’t set up her own PC Optimum account, which was causing points from her purchases to load on Ojanen’s card, Thomas told Global News.
“The way PC Optimum is set up, both the primary user and any authorized ones need to have their own account and then ‘household’ them into a joint one. If there’s only one account created, the points will automatically go to the primary cardholder,” Thomas said via email.
The new system allows members to link their cards and points collection activity while also receiving offers targeted to their individual preference, Thomas added. “You’ll have offers on the things the household buys (i.e. your milk and bananas) but spouses may have different offers on personal care items for example.”
Although the problem is now resolved, Ojanen said he was “frustrated” at the complex transition process and at the initial lack of proactive help from customer service.
Still, neither he nor Diab are planning to drop their PC Optimum membership, at least for now.
“Shoppers and Canadian Superstore are two minutes away for me,” Diab said, adding that he would consider shopping at Walmart as an alternative only if the current points problems persist.
Indeed, customers will probably soon forget those headaches quickly, Levy said.