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

“Gamification” comes with risks.

Denise Brunsdon 7

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.

pc-plus-screenshot

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

7 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.

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

      • 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?

        Reply

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

      Reply

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

    Reply

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