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With abundant data and insights, Empire Company’s big loyalty play is paying off

Empire’s Shawn Bloom, VP of loyalty, on the success of Scene+
empire scene+

A little more than a year ago, Empire Company Limited grabbed headlines when it became part owner in the Scene+ loyalty program alongside founders Scotiabank and Cineplex

Today, the program has rolled out across most of the grocery company’s banners including Sobeys, Foodland, FreshCo and Safeway, as well as its e-commerce platform Voilà. Shawn Bloom, who spent nine years with Scene before joining Empire as vice-president of loyalty in 2018, chatted with Canadian Grocer about personalization and what the company is learning about its shoppers. 

The interview has been edited for length and clarity

Did the Scene+ launch meet objectives?

We’re well ahead of expectations on loyalty sales penetration, active members and new member sign-ups. The program has grown to more than 13 million members [from 10 million] since Empire joined. 

READ: Empire caps off Scene+ rollout across Canada

What do you credit for the successful launch? 

It was always going to be how the Scene+ program came to life in our stores. You can get the technology and the value proposition right, but if the stores aren’t behind the program and can’t get customers engaged, the program will fail. So, our most important challenge was converting our 131,000 employees across Canada into Scene+ ambassadors. 

How did you meet that challenge? 

We invested a tremendous amount of time building employee training and engagement plans. The training guided them through interactive modules about the program and tested their knowledge. In total, we created more than 70 learning assets for our front-line operators and drove more than 2.5 million minutes of training, with record-setting completion rates across the organization.

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shawn bloom
Shawn Bloom

What is one of the best ways you engaged staff in the program? 

One of our KPIs [key performance indicators] is the percentage of sales on Scene+, and so we created friendly competition between stores to see who could drive the most swipes. Individuals would score team points based on their performance and stores could win celebrations like staff pizza parties. It got employees excited to talk about the program with customers. Empire previously partnered with Air Miles. 

Was there concern about converting those members to Scene+?

Our biggest fear in this process was what the transition would mean for Air Miles customers. Would they continue to be loyal to our formats? Or would they follow Air Miles to another store? But, we’ve had a lot of success in converting those existing customers into Scene+ members and that was one of our biggest priorities.

Is the program helping mitigate the impact of inflation for customers? 

Canadians are very savvy in stretching their dollars and we did a great job, particularly at launch, of demonstrating the value of shopping at our stores with strong Scene+ point promotions that ran for many weeks in each region. We also introduced member pricing, which gives customers the ability to earn savings on everyday products by swiping their cards. Lots of customers have been redeeming lots of points over the last year to save on their grocery bill… We have become one of the top redemption choices in the Scene+ program. There are 100 different gift cards for redemption and we’re also the No. 1 gift card. 

READ: How loyalty programs can deliver the savings shoppers want

How is Scene+ helping drive personalized outreach? 

Our loyalty strategy was more than about changing programs; it was centred on our ability to create deeper customer connections, and that required a complete digital, data and loyalty transformation. We spent a significant amount of time building personalization capabilities from the ground up with new technology, people processes, consolidating our data to provide a more unified view of the customer and improving how we connect with customers through digital channels. The capabilities that we’ve invested in have started to pay off in the response rates and incremental sales we’re driving from personalized communications.

What else are you learning from customer data?

It’s the first time our discount banner FreshCo has had a loyalty program and we’ve gained a better understanding of a more value-oriented shopper. This insight has allowed us to tailor our merchandising and drive more personalized marketing to that group. It also allows us to see a broader picture of that customer spend across banners. In Ontario, for instance, where we have Sobeys, Foodland, FreshCo and Voilà, Scene+ allows us to better understand the visits that occur between formats, like where customers buy fresh versus centre-store products. 

That’s a big advantage! 

It’s a powerful decision-making tool for merchants and store operators. That’s what loyalty is – an investment in data and insights to create deeper relationships with customers.

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s August 2023 issue.

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