AT&T joins with ExxonMobil, Macy's, Hulu and others on 'Plenti' loyalty rewards program

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is partnering with major brands including ExxonMobil, Macy's, Nationwide Insurance, Rite Aid, Direct Energy and Hulu to launch a new loyalty rewards program. The program, called "Plenti" and powered by American Express, will let customers earn and redeem points at any of the merchants in the coalition.

The Plenti program is going to formally roll out nationwide in May and will be free to join. Consumers can earn points and discounts using any form of payment accepted by the participating brands, including cash, prepaid and any debit, charge or credit card. Customers will not need to be American Express card holders in order to participate. The brands will spend the next few weeks making sure their systems and training are coordinated across tens of thousands of retail stores and locations in the network.

There are a variety of ways that customers can earn and redeem points. Every time a customer pays their AT&T bill they will earn points, and will also earn points when they buy smartphones and accessories from AT&T. Additionally, the points can be used across multiple brands, or earned at one brand and used at another. Customers who are buying a tank of gas at a participating Exxon- or Mobil-branded gas station can earn points and then redeem them for a discount on a pair of shoes at Macy's or, for example.

Every 1,000 points will translate to at least $10 in savings, and Plenti members can earn points more quickly by activating special promotional offers across the participating brands or through Plenti's online offer center and online marketplace.

AT&T, which shuttered its plans for an in-house loyalty program called "Plus" around two years ago, is jumping back into the rewards business because with Plenti it is able to work with multiple brands. "There's nothing like this in the United States," AT&T Mobility CMO David Christopher said in an interview with FierceWireless. "This model of a coalition has been successful in other regions around the world and we felt the time was right to enter into this coalition with these other great brands in something that's pretty differentiated."

Christopher pointed to the Payback program in Germany, Italy, Poland, India and Mexico as an example of how a coalition loyalty system can work in other countries. AT&T also cited Nectar, the UK's largest loyalty program, which has 19 million card holders and more 4,000 retail locations.Around the world, coalition loyalty programs have made saving money easier for more than 1 billion people, according to Finaccord, a British market research firm.

Christopher said that AT&T has spent years conducting research on loyalty programs, and that consistently the research showed that customers want to feel appreciated and smart for using the program. Christopher said Plenti lets AT&T do that by rewarding customers simply for buying AT&T wireless service and products, and giving them flexibility to redeem points with multiple merchants.

Plenti will eventually expand to more brands and merchants, Christopher said, though he did not give an exact timeframe. The goal at first will be to expand to different categories (one could imagine a movie theater chain, or restaurants). Later, the program will look to add multiple merchants in a given category (for example, Bloomingdale's in addition to Macy's). "Without announcing anything, we definitely want to expand breadth and then potentially over time the depth, too," Christopher said.

Each brand is going to have the flexibility to give away points as they see fit, according to Christopher. Some brands could give away more points during a promotion or sale, he said, and that will vary throughout the year. "We actually think that the average person can accrue points at a very healthy and attractive rate," he said.

The Plenti program will be marketed with above-the-line advertising, like TV and print ads, but Christopher said the program will also be promoted at the tens of thousands of retail locations the brands use. "Distribution is power here," he said.

Other wireless carriers have rewards programs of their own, though they are generally targeted more at their own services and products. In July 2014 Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) launched its Smart Reward program nationwide, giving all of its postpaid customers access to its customer loyalty program. Verizon said its program offers customers discounts and savings of up to 40 percent on brand-name merchandise from more than 200 well-known brands. The program also gives customers offers on local shopping and dining they can redeem directly from their wireless device, as well as travel offers including discounts at more than 26,000 hotels. The program also offers discounts on Verizon-specific products along with gift cards for Verizon merchandise and opportunities to win NFL game tickets.

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) in January launched a new program called "Score" for all of its prepaid and postpaid customers. Under Score, customers pay $5 per month. After six months in the program, or $30 in fees, members automatically qualify for a free, entry-level LTE smartphone. After 12 months ($60), customers can get discounts on to all T-Mobile LTE smartphones.

C Spire Wireless too offers its Percs rewards program, which gives customers points for activities like paying a bill or telling friends about C Spire. The points can be redeemed for discounts, gift cards and more. C Spire says active participants in Percs can save an average of $300 per year.

Cristopher said that Plenti is "simply much more expansive" than other loyalty programs and "has many, many more choices for customers to earn and redeem points. They have great flexibility to earn those points."

US Loyalty, a division of American Express that will serve as the operator of Plenti, will issue the rewards and oversee the centralized marketing activities for the program in collaboration with the founding companies. Additionally, US Loyalty will be responsible for securely managing consumer data collected through Plenti.

Christopher said AT&T trusts American Express to securely manage Plenti customers' data, and that millions of customers around the world already rely on the company to securely handle their finances and credit card transactions. "The benefit of partnering with American Express is that they truly are a world-class financial institution," he said. "This is what they do every day. We couldn't be happier with our choice of a partner here."

For more:
- see this release

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