Loblaws’ new “PC Plus” loyalty program is really a game in disguise

“Gamification” comes with risks.


This week Loblaws rolled out a new digital reward program, PC Plus. The scheme offers a number of innovations, both for Loblaws and for customers, such as cutting back on the cost and waste of paper flyers and offering customized deals that better match up with shoppers’ actual buying habits.

But PC Plus is actually more than another loyalty program or an email version of the weekly store flyer; it’s a prime example of mobile, social gamification working today for a major Canadian company.

Gamification is a trendy concept, but it’s not just a buzzword: Foursquare badges and Farmville fertilizer are examples, but so are Air Canada’s frequent flyer status levels, Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum points, and Canadian Tire money. Companies of all kinds are finding ways to put the structures and rules of games to work in business. Habit RPG, with its tagline “Gamify Your Life”, will even let you turn your to-do list into a competition.

And so while Loblaws spent much time touting how their new digital platform will reduce flyer demand, that’s not its main purpose. PC Plus merges social media and a loyalty program into a super-gamified system that they hope will keep customers coming back for more.

pc-plus-cardBut while a more social, addictive, and data-driven smartphone app can offer many more customer insights for Loblaws, a deeper integration in customers’ lives brings pitfalls as well. There are two important considerations for firms implementing gamified social media and loyalty programs. The first is responsible data collection. The second is the system’s ability to meet the demand for diverse rewards.

Responsible data collection

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, even if it is Blue Menu.

The PC Plus app has already received complaints about the default settings for data collection. Similarly, Target came under scrutiny for its data-mining use to predict a purchaser’s pregnancy.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with retailers collecting their customer’s shopping habits, particularly given the changing attitudes younger generations hold in regards to privacy. It helps companies to predict a customer’s interests in order to optimize the relevant deal information it provides. But firms should be as transparent as possible about what data they are collecting, and allow customers to contour settings to meet comfort levels. Also, as a technical point, apps that provide different data collection settings should respect the settings selected. Apps that allow users to select different information sharing settings then refuse to download properly without a full data divulge are misleading.

Moreover, companies should only request as much information as is relevant to improving customer service. Apps should not be a backdoor route to reduce market research costs.

Gratify diverse customer needs

The other important consideration is whether or not a retailer’s rewards structure makes sense for a consumer as an individual player. Most loyalty programs tend heavily toward prizes, but not everyone is motivated by a payout. Some sign up to a gamified system for entertainment, some for social interaction, some simply for the direct competition of a leaderboard or other status equivalency.


Screenshot from the PC Plus announcement video

Just as companies break down their monolithic customer base into smaller demographics and psychographics, so should they recognize and respect different types of game players.

Often customers who don’t share a neighbour or co-worker’s enthusiasm for a particular loyalty program or social media platform feel like they’re misunderstanding or missing out on some aspect of the system. Not everyone is going to do a touchdown celebration dance when they become the Foursquare mayor of their local coffee shop. Lack of enthusiasm most likely stems from a disconnect between an individual’s motivations and the program’s rewards provided. Never assume that your customers don’t get your game. It’s likely that your game doesn’t get them.

In short, the proliferation of digital rewards programs is inevitable. Transparency about data collection and respect for customers’ differing privacy and reward needs will ensure that both companies and customers can be winners.

Denise Brunsdon is a social media consultant and published academic on digital communications trends. You can connect with her for little to no reward at: @Brunsdon & LinkedIn


Get our daily briefing on innovation, leadership, technology & the economy.
Weekdays at 6 AM ET. Learn More »

20 comments on “Loblaws’ new “PC Plus” loyalty program is really a game in disguise

  1. It may be innovative, but I’m not convinced it’s worthwhile innovation. I got a card today and signed up on the web site. Apparently you have to load offers every week in order to get the largest point values. While this appears to be part of the gamification, I’m just not going to bother. Between that and the fact that I couldn’t figure out from the web site what value the points actually have, I threw the card in the garbage.

    To be honest, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Ironically, their loyalty has me debating the merits of shopping elsewhere.

    • That’s funny! I feel exactly the same. It seems utterly pointless and the fact that they have either the cheek to think that they get to dictate what I buy so blatantly or are stupid enough to think this is better than a standard loyalty programme makes me want to go to Metro.

      • I hate this car.d. My first time signing up, I noticed I wasn’t rewarded any points, and had spent a bundle on the Items which I would get Points for. I called Customer Service from Loblaws, and the CSR Agent told me the Points Card would be on MY PC Bank Card, and not the PC Points Card… since I was already a member with PC Banks….. sounded weird… but that first time, I did get a lot of points for my purchases.
        I always load my Points before I go to Shop, so they should be ready.

        Since then I figured everything would go smoothly. Each transaction I’ve made, I’ve noticed the following problems:
        – The points don’t show up on my receipt for which Items earned me points, the Cashier’s seem a bit clueless about the whole matter (I think they are forced to promote it, but know it’s a bit of a scam.)
        – Anyways, about 10 diligent Shops dedicated to earning points, the total points I’ve earned: 0
        – I can review my ‘past transactions’, and although I’ve been purchasing the products to earn me points, nothing has shown up on my card.

        Overall, it’s a waste of time and money. Even if I do get my points now by complaining, was the hassle worth it?

    • I have had noting but problems with my card. Thank you very much I will go back to Save On Foods

      • I have, after three calls to PC Plus to combine my three cards, given up. What a waste of time! And second, rhe subliminal dictation of telling me what they will load as my offers as they too play game of these cards collecting my info and for what. I was told that I redeemed my points – which somehow vanished from my cards after the consolidation. I am happy that I gave them the wrong year of birth. There collect that! I may have also said I was a man. How clean is that personal info?

        • Having the exact same problem now. All they talk about is having all these different cards to use, add a card, blah blah blah, but then try to actually add a card, it’s nearly impossible! Been trying for three weeks now, many calls, they just won’t do it. What a farse.

  2. Pingback: PC Plus Points and the Grocery Shopping Experience | Abacus Insider

  3. Pingback: Do you play the reward points game? » Live Free Chipamogli

  4. Enter fake info on the registration, pay cash and who cares what they mine.

  5. This week’s points was to spend $250.00 and get 250,000 pts equivilant to $25.00 in rewards. I spent $342.00 only to find out they will not reward you any points if you redeem points and fall below the $250.00. Phoned customer service and they are unable to put in the points-they say read the terms of agreement. They said sorry – end result – I went shopping to save $25.00 only to find out I did not get points. I guess they just lost a $10,000 grocery account

  6. The last 3 times I have shopped never got my points I feel this is a scam and am not impressed

  7. I love this card!! It is great and I save lots of money that I then can respond at Superstore!!!

  8. I also have had nothing but problems with this card and nearly every time I shop my points don’t show up – resulting in ME wasting my time having to contact them explaining which points are missing etc…

    They also feel that they can tell you that your offers have expired or if they were not activated at at any given time but fail to be able to provide you with any data to back this up. How are you not privy to your past offers yet they are?

    You get some robot response from a CSR :
    Thank you for contacting PC Plus Member Services.

    We apologize for the inconvenience and we appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention.

    We are always looking for new ways to better satisfy our member’s needs and appreciate that you took the time to share your feedback with us. We will be sure to share your comments with the appropriate department for further review and consideration.

    What complete BS.

    Thanks for nothing.

    • When in comes to customer service, somebody better pull up there socks.
      I am fed up running back and forth because I am not charged as stated on the front edge of the shelf.
      Also I would like to AAA beef, aged 21 to 28 days as the AA beef offered is so bloody tough
      I purchase it else where Ken P

  9. I would like to know when you are bringing back the Marc Angelo maple brown sugar pork roast. and Im finding other items are also not being stocked regularly such as the 3 pack no name regular hot dogs.

  10. I started to use but this past saturday the cashier could not scan my card – i contacted PC but I have to go item by item and review my $400 plus order in order for them to do any thing. So watch out ’cause every time there is a problem at the cash you have to work hard to get your points….basically B******T!

  11. This program is a farce…it has nothing to do with loyalty but more to do with trying to dictate what I buy. I will go back to my Costco/Sobeys.

  12. The program isn’t actually that bad, once you know how it works. You can’t just say something’s broken, if you don’t at least attempt to find out how its used. First of all, the app sucks, never us it. I would recommend just using the PC Plus red card that you can get from the store. I have had my card for a year now, and at first I didn’t see any benefit. But the more I swiped my card the more offers I received. Eventually they started matching my shopping habits. It can be annoying loading offers once a week, but I do get a reminder email, so its not too bad. And in the end its worth it, because I am earning points on things I am buying anyway. Also I have earned quite a few ‘in store’ points. The PC plus program, coupled with the fact I can earn points per dollar with my master card, really helps to rack in points. All I had to do was call their customer service and they linked my master card with my PC Plus card. I’ve already redeemed about 500 dollars worth. If anyones confused, you need 20,000 points to redeem, and that equals 20 dollars. So my 500 dollars, would of been 500,000 points. It seems like a lot, but it adds up fast. My husband likes the program as well, and we even have two cards on one account. Its really not that difficult linking cards. If you login to your account you can find how to do it, or just contact the customer service people. I haven’t really had any problems with them. In the end the program is far from perfect, but the way I see it, its free (ie; no monthly fee) and I am shopping at Loblaw’s anyway, might as well earn points, and I don’t buy their offers unless I want to. If you aren’t a member you will definitely earn 0 points, but if you are one then you can. Its not for everyone, but just because you don’t like something doesn’t make it a scam.

    P.S; FAQ section on PC plus.ca is very helpful.

    • Yeah, I agree. I like the program. If anyone is confused about how much points are worth, just go onto http://www.pcpluc.ca, it explains in the FAQ. I believe 20,000 points are redeemable for 20 dollars, and after that its in increments of 10,000. So 30,000 is 30 dollars, 40,000 is 40 dollars, and so on. At first the offers are for things you don’t buy, but if you swipe your card every-time you shop that will change. One of their cashiers explained to me that everyone gets their own offers, so in order for the computer to detect if an item will earn them points, you need to first load the offers to your card.

      And if you get another card that you want to link to your account just login to http://www.pcplus.ca, and go to the ‘change car settings’ page. Theres a button to add a card. Its not that complicated. I like PC Plus, and since Sobey’s stopped their program, I am going to stick with it.

  13. It is a stupid, time-consuming, frustrating system, for 0 points most times I shopped there. I liked SuperStore, but wish they had a straight-forward points for dollars system to avoid the disappointment of 0 points after all the bother.