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Loyalty Limelight: Shell Expands Points Potential Beyond the Pump

In a nutshell: This program, which is being tested in 40 U.S. markets including Miami and San Francisco, offers multiple ways to earn points through the purchase of food, clothing and household goods, which can then be redeemed for fuel savings at participating Shell stations. The program is developed and operated by Excentus, which specializes in cents-per-gallon loyalty programs.

Key Features: The Fuel Rewards Network (FRN) Program, which is free, allows consumers to earn fuel rewards at more than 10,000 participating restaurant locations, at some supermarket chains and almost 700 online merchants. To earn rewards at restaurants, members link their debit or credit card to a dining loyalty account, and for every $50 spent they earn 10 cents per gallon. At the online mall, merchants offer 5 cents per gallon for every $50 spent. Members earn points at the supermarket when they link their participating grocer’s rewards card to their FRN account.

Reward cards can be picked up at participating Shell stations and activated at fuelrewards.com.

Takeaways: Shell’s Fuel Rewards Network Program seems to be taking small steps toward what we call a coalition-model rewards program. Coalition programs, which are common in Canada and Europe but not in play in the United States, allow consumers to earn reward points across a broad spectrum of participating merchants, airlines, hotels and services, and then redeem them with any of these program partners.

But there are a few key differences between what Shell is offering and a true coalition program:

* Coalition programs are tender neutral across the board, meaning the consumer can pay for any purchase using cash, credit card, debit card or check. This program requires a credit or debit card in some cases, or needs to be linked to an existing loyalty plan.

* Coalition programs allow members to redeem their rewards wherever they want within the program. You can earn all your points at participating grocery and department stores, but redeem them for frequent-flier miles or hotel nights.

The Shell program is more of a partnership than a coalition, but it does add value in a category of increasing relevance to consumers, meaning fuel. And the timing – at the screen door of summer – could not be more appropriate. Every week we are reminded how much our seasonal travels will cost us at the pump.

If buying more shoes or restaurant meals means paying less to fill the tank, then all parties stand to gain.

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