WatchWhat the merger of Shoppers Optimum and PC Plus loyalty cards means

Customers at Shoppers Drug Mart or any of Loblaw Companies Ltd.’s grocery stores will soon use a new, unified loyalty program that replaces Optimum and PC Plus points.Loblaw (TSX:L) will merge the two programs starting Feb. 1, 2018 under the name PC Optimum — a long-anticipated move that comes more than three years after the grocery giant acquired the pharmacy chain and its in-house Shopper Optimum system.“We’re bringing the very best of Shoppers Optimum and PC Plus together,” said Uwe Stueckmann, senior vice president of marketing.PC Optimum is “the future of loyalty programs for Loblaw companies,” he said, “harnessing both the power of PC Plus and Shoppers Optimum across the unified network of our stores coast to coast.”Food retailer Loblaw raising handling fee for its largest suppliersLoblaw could be stoking another supplier showdownCIBC launches Simplii Financial direct banking but customers finding glitchesFor the company, the merger creates a more efficient and unified data collection system to gather insights to better target customers, an increasingly important tool for grocers in a highly competitive market.Consumers can keep collecting points as usual until Feb. 1 next year when their Optimum and/or Plus points will move to the new program at equal value. If a collector has $100 worth of Optimum points, they will receive $100 worth of PC Optimum points, for example.In Quebec, where Shoppers Drug Mart operates under the Pharmaprix name, the Pharmaprix Optimum program will end on Jan. 31, 2018 and members will have until May 2 that year to redeem their points or convert them at equal value to the new program.Collectors will then use a single card or app and continue to earn points on money spent at Shoppers. They’ll also be able to earn points through personalized offers and in-store promotions at all stores, and by using the President’s Choice Financial MasterCard.The new program will have an easy to remember redemption system — with 10,000 points valued at $10, 20,000 points at $20 and so on to a maximum single transaction redemption of $500. Shoppers can use their reward money at any of Loblaw’s nearly 2,500 stores and the company’s websites.Consumers will earn 50 per cent more points for almost every dollar spent at Shoppers Drug Mart locations to help account for the higher number of points needed for each redemption level. Under the current Optimum program, collectors earn 10 points for every $1 spent, but need 2,000 fewer points to buy $10 worth of goods, for example.However, BMO analyst Peter Sklar notes that it’s difficult to gauge whether the new system will provide extra value for consumers because while the change in the point structure means points are earned faster, they are redeemable for less dollar value.“As a result, we believe the management of the marketing program to educate consumers on the value of PC Optimum will be crucial for consumer reception,” he wrote in a note.More than 19 million active members make up the base of the two current programs, with at least 50 per cent of members enrolled in both, said Jim Noteboom, senior vice-president of loyalty and consumer insights.After Loblaw acquired Shoppers in 2014, Noteboom said consumers told the company they wanted one program rather than two separate ones because it would make their lives easier.“Make it one program, that’s easy to understand and easy to earn, with points that are redeemable at all stores,” he said collectors told the company while it gathered research on its loyalty cards. Analyst speculation about a points merger has heightened since August when CIBC (TSX:CM) and Loblaw’s PC Financial announced they would end their nearly 20-year relationship.In its place, CIBC launched Simplii Financial — a no-fee direct banking brand — on Nov. 1. In the breakup, savings, chequing and mortgage accounts went with Simplii, while MasterCard credit cards and the PC Plus points program remained with PC Financial.The change means PC Financial debit card holders no longer earn PC points when using those cards. Both spokesmen said that the end of the company’s relationship with CIBC was unrelated to the decision to merge both programs, which has been in the works for a few years.For RBC retail analyst Irene Nattel, the merger answers a long-standing question about how the company would deal with its two loyalty programs in order to maximize reach and impact, she wrote in a note Wednesday.“In a world with increasing retail fragmentation, PC Optimum has the potential to be a powerful tool to retain and grow share of wallet within the Loblaw ecosystem.” read more

UN mediator suspends intraSyrian talks for three weeks

He was asked if the military escalation by the Syrian government and the Russian bombardment have “basically bombed your talks.” “I’m not referring to military activities, I’m saying to an impossibility through military activities and other reasons for the fact that the humanitarian signals which are meant to be sent to the Syrian people – for instance lifting of the sieges, for instance the access for all the places which are at the moment unreachable – should be seen,” he said.“The whole matter is, again, are we here to have another Geneva conference without any result for the Syrian people, or are we serious about what we have been saying, that while we are having a conference, talking about the future, and political future of Syria, and the new constitution, and the new elections, the Syrian people will see and expect me and they expect all of us to produce something while we are talking. “Since I am not seeing that, I have to be honest and say with myself, it is time now to have a pause only a pause and give time for this to happen.”Mr. de Mistura declared the official start of the talks on Monday after meeting for two hours with the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) at the UN’s official Geneva headquarters in the Palais des Nations. He met Government representatives yesterday.The talks between the sides are not face-to-face but indirect, involving ‘close proximity diplomacy,’ with the UN envoy shuttling between them in different rooms.Both Government and opposition are reported to have denied that the talks have officially started but Mr. de Mistura said today: “They are talks, and the talks have started, you can call them as you want, but they were talks, but there is more work, more work, to be done. “Not only by us, we have done our part. but by the stakeholders, who have been telling us ‘go and start this initiative,’ while in fact they, the Security Council and the ISSG, are now expected to address some of the issues pending, one in particular, what are these talks going to make as a difference to the Syrian people.” The ISSG – the International Syria Support Group comprising the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations, and 17 countries including the United States and Russia – laid the groundwork for the Geneva talks at a meeting in November. “I have been asking even before issuing the invitations that there is an immediate implementation of a humanitarian initiative, even before the talks start,” UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told journalists, citing such issues as lifting sieges and providing access for humanitarian aid to all the places which are at the moment unreachable.“I was told and reassured that they were going to take place during the talks. Well, I have been hearing from the Government that they had some procedural issues before talking about humanitarian side. I have been hearing from the opposition that they are urgently feeling the need for the Syrian people.”He stressed that the suspension was only “a temporary pause” and not the end or failure of the talks, noting that both sides insist they are interested in having the political process begin. He set 25 February for the next session. Mr. de Mistura has made clear from the start that he is under no illusions about the difficulties in ending a war that has killed over 250,000 people, sent over 4 million fleeing the country, displaced 6.5 million internally, and put 13.5 million people inside the country in urgent need of humanitarian aid.“There will be a lot of posturing, we know that, a lot of walk-outs and walk-ins because a bomb has fallen or because someone has done an attack, and you will see that happening,” he said last week. Today he was asked how he felt. “I’m not frustrated, I’m not disappointed, I have been long enough with the UN to know that when you have a five-years war and have had so many difficult moments, you have to be determined but also realistic,” he replied.“When you see things going in a certain direction, you take – we are the convener, we manage the conference, we decide when the conference producing results or not and if they don’t produce results we need to go deeper, that’s what we are doing,” he said, dismissing the idea of holding talks just for the sake of holding talks.“The UN cannot allow simple procedural matters to actually become more important than actually the results of humanitarian situation of the Syrian people who have been waiting for us to deliver this time, not a conference, but something concrete for them.” Special Envoy de Mistura (2nd left) with Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari (3rd right) of the Syrian Arab Republic during on the Intra-Syrian Geneva Talks (29 January 2016). UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré read more