I don’t think I’d be out of line to say that Indigo is one of Canada’s favourite retailers.  Selling everything from books to toys to super gourmet costs-a-million-dollars-but-I’ll-take-every-flavour confections, it has quickly become the top-of-mind store for many gift buying occasions.

As an avid book lover I’m always looking forward to my next visit, salivating at the thought of being able to ogle the cornucopia of paper, art books, and novelty drinkware.  In fact, I love Indigo so much that I got myself accidentally hired there in my last year of university (I’ll save that story for another time), and over the year or so that I worked there became very familiar with their Plum Rewards program.

By delivering fixed amount discounts, special offers, and promotional events (all at the low cost of free), Plum Rewards clearly exemplifies Indigo’s belief in Customer Engagement and Customer Joy.  Let’s take a closer look at how it all works, and what it has to offer.

Let’s Start With Some Positives

My mom always told me that if you can’t say anything nice you shouldn’t say it at all.  Lucky for Indigo, there’s a whole bunch of nice things I could say, but I’m going to narrow it down to three.

1. Accessibility

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a loyalty program that is this accessible no matter where I am.  Indigo has beautifully optimized their rewards program to be enjoyed both online and in store.  Members’ accounts can be looked up by customer service representatives in store using an email address or phone number, or logged into using a smartphone or computer at home.

This also means that a customer’s rewards balance is always at hand and can be easily consulted on the go or while making a purchase.  This type of convenience is something many people would gladly pay for but is, as I mentioned earlier, 100% free.  Having experienced this service from both sides of a transaction, I can assure you that it is a great indicator of excellent attention to customer experience.

2. Easy Earning & Redeeming

This goes hand-in-hand with the program’s accessibility, as Indigo strives to make everything as painless as possible for their customers.  As a member of Plum Rewards, you receive five points for every dollar you spend on virtually everything in store and online.  Your points balance is tracked for you with an easy-to-understand Rewards Dashboard, and clearly indicates how close you are to redeeming your next reward.

Looks like I’m already eligible to redeem $5.00, and am well on my way to redeeming $10.00!  Score!  They’ve even provided ways for me to earn more points while I’m in the Rewards Center.  Even when I’m not making a purchase, Indigo wants to reward me, and that demonstrates a strong commitment to the program and ensuring customers actively participate.

3. Recommendations

One of the ways Plum members can earn points online is by approving or rejecting recommendations Indigo makes for them based on the interests outlined in their profile.  This feature is genius.

This directly addresses the most common pain point for Indigo customers.  The number of people who asked me for recommendations while I worked there was astounding, but not unexpected.  Indigo has thousands of books and products available to its customers and it can be overwhelming.  Providing informed options eases the customer experience and makes shopping more enjoyable. Too much choice in ecommerce can actually be a bad thing.

To follow that up, it gives customers points just for agreeing or disagreeing with their suggestions.  As you can see, I earned 10 points just for telling Indigo what I liked and didn’t like, and customers can do that every single day if they want.  This type of reward is quick, easy, and nothing but beneficial for both parties – they find out what I’m looking for, and I’m given ideas of what book to read next along with a healthy points boost.

Let’s Take a Look at the Negatives

While Plum Rewards is a very well-run and well-designed program, it’s far from flawless.

1. Lofty Redemption Tiers

This is definitely my biggest issue with the Plum Rewards system, and I need to preface this issue with a personal anecdote.  My mom has been using my Plum Rewards card for years, and recently purchased a baby gift for a friend.  When she came home she excitedly told me that she was able to get $10.00 off using my Plum card, and wasn’t that great news?  My heart immediately sunk, because it had taken me nearly ten years to raise all of those points, and now I’d have to start over.

Plum Rewards is divided into five tiers that are quite far apart, and as such it usually takes multiple purchases of significant value to make any real progress in earning rewards.

These tiers can be extremely frustrating, and while members are offered percentage discounts for shopping online, these immediate savings cannot be experienced in-store which may cause many customers to stop participating in the program.  It’s a constantly swinging pendulum as Indigo gives members many opportunities to earn points, but fewer  occasions to reap rewards.

2. Unclear Restrictions

It’s not uncommon for retailers to restrict what customers can or can’t redeem rewards on.  While we’ve talked about ways retailers can offer rewards for premium products, not all retailers are going to take advantage of that.  Indigo has decided to opt out of these scenarios, and while this decision isn’t an issue, the lack of communication is.

This was definitely the number one customer complaint I received during my time at Indigo.  Items such as gift cards, American Girl dolls, and LEGO products cannot be purchased using Plum Rewards, and although Indigo’s website outlines these restrictions, it is not clearly communicated to customers in store.  Price tags and shelf signs do not emphasize these restrictions, and since many customers do not interact with a sales representative while shopping they have no way of being reminded of this Plum Rewards condition.

This recurring problem highlights a crucial miscommunication that has not yet been corrected.  Many customers save up their points expressly to buy these products because they are some of the more expensive offerings at Indigo, and this restriction creates a huge roadblock in their customer experience.

This common problem would be better communicated with a visually appealing explainer page. When you present things in a visual way, customers are much more likely to understand your program. This sure beats burying it in the terms of service page, which only leads to future disappointment.

3. Poor Communication of Member Exclusives

Indigo has partnered with different services to offer discounts on experiences like theatre and museum tickets.  Significant savings are available to Plum members, but there’s a problem: these discounts are only communicated via email.

I can honestly tell you that I didn’t know Plum Rewards offered additional Member Exclusives until I wrote this article.  Like many other consumers, I had automatically changed my preferences to not receive emails, not knowing that I was missing an opportunity to get even more value from my Plum membership.

There is also next to no information available in-store, which begs the question of why it’s being offered at all.  These types of promotions can be great for increasing the prestige of a rewards program, but are only valuable if they’re being communicated to the intended audience.

Takeaways for the Plum Rewards Program

While it is by no means perfect, Plum Rewards is a fantastic example of what it means to offer additional value to your customers.

Yes, the monetary discounts take some time to gain, and their communications could be improved, but their ability to meet their customer’s needs is evident through their recommendations and the optimization of their program for mobile devices and in-store kiosks.  Whether you’re shopping for yourself or someone else, Plum Rewards creates a great shopping experience and provides immediate value with every visit.