Published On: Mon, Feb 12th, 2018

PC Optimum loses points for clumsy merger

Last November, Loblaw’s announced the merger of two popular loyalty programs, PC Plus and Shoppers Optimum, into a new points plan called PC Optimum.

With three months’ notice, the giant grocery chain should have been prepared to answer questions and give guidance on the Feb. 1 launch date.

But some people ran into roadblocks trying to transfer points from the old program to the new one. Calling for help didn’t always work, either.

Here are comments I received by email, Twitter and Facebook:

“Horrible first day pains with the new PC Optimum program. I have $ 1,000 worth of Shoppers Optimum points that I can’t access. Phoning in just leads to an immediate dropped call. Surely we can do better than this?” (PP, Feb. 2)

“I downloaded new app. Couldn’t sign in with old password, so I reset it. I have not been able to sign in with new password either. Been trying all day.” (CK, Feb. 2)

“Try contacting PC Optimum. No available phone service, no available chat and the automated email contact responds with an ‘unidentified’ error message.” (MB, Feb. 5)

“In the rush to give me the new card, my Shoppers Drug Mart did not transfer my Optimum points. Since I don’t have my old card number, I can’t add the card online. Called the help line many times every day this week, but it’s constantly busy. Reached out on Twitter, but haven’t heard back.” (KM, Feb. 8)

While Loblaw’s has apologized for the obstacles people ran into at first, the company believes it was a successful transition.

“Make no mistake, we are pleased with the conversion, as are the vast majority of our members,” said company spokesperson Catherine Thomas.

“Millions of them have converted without issue, both online and in-store, earning and redeeming PC Optimum points as we speak. And in fact, recent surveys show that 80 per cent of members are very satisfied with the new program.”

In a project this large – bringing two loyalty programs, 19 million members, 2,500 stores, many online properties and apps together on one day – there will be some bumps, she said.

Loblaw’s more than doubled its call centre and online support before Feb. 1. Despite increased support since then, it still had intermittent periods where only limited calls could get through.

This was upsetting for customers who couldn’t shop for deals when they found their new PC Optimum cards didn’t work and their old cards were no longer accepted.

Shoppers Drug Mart had a popular 20X the points sale on purchases of $ 30 or more on the weekend after the Feb. 1 transition. Some people felt shut out.

Other customers wanted to ask why some points were missing or why they got a message saying their card was not verified when trying to set up the PC Optimum account.

“We appreciate the patience, and in some cases frustration, our members are showing,” Thomas said.

Is an apology enough? Why wasn’t Canada’s giant grocery chain ready for the deluge of calls?

It was Loblaw’s decision to merge the programs on a single day, rather than do it in phases.

It was Loblaw’s decision to make customers wait on hold to talk to its call centre. Why not allow them to leave their number and wait for a return call? Why not use live chat?

I, too, had a problem that arose from inadequate staff training and resulted in my losing points I should have earned.

First, I transferred my PC Plus and Shoppers points online to a PC Optimum account. All went smoothly.

Then, I handed in my Shoppers Optimum card and received a new one at a Shoppers Drug Mart store.

On Feb. 5, I bought about $ 90 worth of groceries at Loblaw’s. The cashier scanned my PC Optimum card, but didn’t want my PC Financial MasterCard.

“You won’t earn any more points by using it,” she said.

I checked the receipt at home and saw I’d earned zero points. (There were only 10 personalized offers on the PC app, none of which appealed to me.)

In a message at the bottom, Loblaw’s said I could have earned 900 points if I’d had a PC credit card.

I assumed my PC Optimum card would have the information that I had a PC credit card that gave me points on the value of my grocery order – not just on special weekly deals.

“Based on your feedback, more training is required,” Thomas said after I told her about my experience. “We have sent out a follow-up communication to stores, clarifying the training documentation specific to PC Financial MasterCard.”

Yes, I will receive the points I should have collected on Feb. 5. Even better, I’ve helped ensure this won’t happen to other credit card holders.

A PC Financial cardholder asked me if the merger would do away with “double dipping” (getting points on the full order and on special deals). She was relieved to hear it would not.

“I believe this is the one time that a change to a points program made it better,” she said. “I have over $ 1,100 worth of points saved up. Most came over from the Optimum program. Being able to use them at No Frills will be really helpful.

“We have a 17-year-old athlete who eats about $ 40 plus a day in food and snacks, so you can guess where my next redemption will be.”

Ellen Roseman’s column appears in Smart Money. You can reach her at eroseman@thestar.ca.

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PC Optimum loses points for clumsy merger