PC Insiders. For True Fans Only?

April 3, 2020
Blog
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PC Insiders is a fee-based subscription program that offers special discounts and reward points across Loblaw’s affiliated retail businesses, both online and walk-in stores. It is a paid upgrade to the conglomerate’s no-fee loyalty program, PC Optimum, targeted at young adults holding a PC Financial Mastercards, although all members can benefit from it. Here we’ll tell you how, and whether it is a good a deal or not.

During the last decade, Loblaw Companies Ltd has increased its focus on the retail business. The conglomerate underwent several shake-ups, moving away from financial services that don’t contribute directly to the growth of its stores. The strategy led the company to ditch most of its retail banking business, although keeping its three PC Financial Mastercards, and create PC Optimum, which merged PC Plus, its loyalty program, with Optimum, a similar initiative run by a subsidiary acquired in 2014, Shoppers Drug Mart.

These were some of the most noticeable moves from the customers’ perspective. However, changes didn’t stop there. In 2018, after a one-year, by-invitation-only “soft launch” for 30,000 members, Loblaws launched PC Insiders, a paid subscription retail loyalty program that further upgrades PC Optimum by offering exclusive rewards and e-commerce benefits for its 16 million members.

PC Insiders logo

Loyalty Changes

PC Insiders makes the current configuration of Loblaw’s loyalty programs somewhat similar to Amazon Prime: people can sign up for free to the basic program, PC Optimum, buy anything they want with some discounts and benefits on eligible products, and they can also opt to pay an annual fee to upgrade their perks with PC Insiders.

The goal of loyalty programs is to limit cross-shopping with other retailers by offering additional value and convenience to those customers who choose to do all their purchases with a given store or chain. Requiring a fee may increase the customers’ commitment to the brand, but there’s also a risk of discouraging them if they perceive the program as an extra bill that adds no real value.

PC Insiders offers major rewards on Canada’s most popular brands and family essentials, as well as free pick-up and delivery on most of Loblaw’s affiliated e-commerce sites, supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies nationwide.

This fee-based program is the first initiative of its kind in Canada in the major retail business. So, this was a risky move. However, the response was good and members received the program with enthusiasm. The year-long pilot, initially planned for 5,000 super-loyal PC Optimum and PC Financial Mastercard users, had to expand to 30,000, yet 3,000 were still on the waitlist. During that time, the average member more than doubled the value of the subscription fee in benefits and rewards received, with many actually earning many times the price.

How Does PC Insiders Work?

As we already mentioned, this program works in pretty much the same way as Amazon Prime, so if you’re familiar with Bezos’ premium subscription service, you’ll have an idea as to how PC Insiders works. If not, then not to worry, we’ll clear it up for you all the same.

How Do You Open A PC Insiders Account?

Joining PC Insiders is beyond easy. Use your PC Optimum account’s login id and password to subscribe to PC Insiders through the program’s website.

Once your subscription is complete, your PC Optimum account and PC Insiders accounts will be linked. The mobile app and the website will allow you to track your account activity online. In your PC Insiders account, the points you earn will be listed separately and marked as “PC Insiders Subscription” points, while the rest will still be PC Optimum points.

How To Use Your PC Insiders Subscription Points

There are a couple of ways to take advantage of your benefits both at online stores and at walk-in stores:

  • In order to access all PC Optimum and PC Insiders benefits at Loblaws-affiliated stores, just show or scan your PC Optimum card as usual.
  • When you want to request free shipping for an online order, enter the PC id affiliated with your account.
  • To redeem your points, let the representative know at the station or during the phone call, and they will take the amount off the final bill. Same if you have a PC Insiders promo code.

In case you want to cancel your PC Insiders subscription: sign in to your account and visit the “Manage My Subscription” section, or call 1-833-PC-INSID(ERS). If you cancel mid-month or mid-year, the subscription stays active until the end of your pay period.

How Much Are PC Insiders Subscription Points Worth?

PC Insiders points are PC Optimum (PC Plus) points, every 10,000 PC Optimum Points are worth $10. You can redeem them in $10 increments at checkout. This means that PC POints are valued at $0.001 in purchases or rewards.

Two Different Subscription Plans

This program’s deal seems fairly simple at first sight. They offer two different subscription plans, one monthly and the other annual, with slightly different benefits:

  • The $9.99 monthly subscription gives access to extra PC Optimum points (200 per $1 spent on PC Organics, Joe Fresh, PC Black Label Collection, baby diapers and formula, and beautyBOUTIQUE products on shoppersdrugmart.ca.), free shipping and free online grocery pickup.
  • The $99 annual subscription gives all the benefits of the monthly subscription, plus a $99 travel credit and surprise gift every year.

Here’s a table showing all the benefits of the two types of subscription:

Monthly
$9.99/month
Annual
$99/year
Extra PC Optimum PointsYes Yes
Free Shipping at Jose Fresh and Shoppers Drug Mart Yes Yes
Free online grocery pickup at PC Express Yes Yes
Exclusive offers on PC Insiders Collection Yes Yes
$99 Travel credit via website Yes
Annual surprise gift Yes

Keep reading and we’ll break this down to figure out how good a deal it is to pay a monthly or annual fee for this grocery store loyalty program.

Is PC Insiders Worth It?

The initial question is whether the program guarantees a return (benefits or savings) which is greater than its cost (fee).

The short answer is yes. Actually, those who choose the annual subscription ($99 plus tax) will be in the blue with the $99 PC Travel credit and the annual gift, which has an approximate value of $20. In addition to this, every now and then PC Insiders will offer coupons for subscription clients with up to 50,000 bonus points, which, in practice represent a $50 discount.

Of course, this is not enough to justify a subscription and doesn’t really provide an answer to monthly subscribers. So, we have to figure out if there is more value in the program, especially for those who are not travellers and don’t want to pay for the annual subscription.

We must take three things into account to find the answer:

  • First, that PC Insiders’ benefits add to PC Optimum’s.
  • Second, the benefits are relative to your current purchasing habits, and
  • Third, PC Financial Mastercard cardholders can get even more benefits.

So, those who regularly buy at Loblaw’s affiliated stores, take their in-store promotions, use their pick-up and delivery services and pay with a PC Financial Mastercard, will certainly save many times the subscription fee.

PC Insiders Benefits

To give you a clearer picture, let’s break all the benefits down:

The Winning Combo: PC Insiders + PC Optimum + PC World Elite Mastercard

Obviously, the first way in which PC Insiders will help you save money is through those extra 200 PC Optimum points per every $1 spent on PC Black Label Collection, PC Organics, Joe Fresh, baby diapers and formula, and beautyBOUTIQUE products on shoppersdrugmart.ca, which in reality represent a 20% discount for those who redeem their points in a timely manner.

Here’s the gist: the discount on PC Black Label and PC Organics can help you bring home higher-quality food products, which is great for your health, but it doesn’t stop there. As a matter of fact, the latter and Joe Fresh clothes are already quite price-competitive in their respective segments. Therefore, when you combine the weekly PC Optimum offers, the weekly flyer offers, the 3% cashback on the PC World Elite Mastercard, on top of the 20% return on points you get for being a PC Insiders member, points and savings do add up very quickly.

Those who are really focused on savings should take into account that Real Superstore does price-matching, so by shopping there, you get variety in products as well as cheap prices. If you have your Flipp app ready to do real-price matching with other stores, you can save even more.

When Time is Money

The old saying remains an incredibly valuable piece of advice, but PC Insiders make it very real in their subscribers’ everyday purchases.

PC Optimum fans know that for a small price ($3 or $5, depending on the time of services), PC Express Click & Collect pickup services allow customers to save time spent going through grocery aisles for the things they need. As a PC Insiders subscriber, not only can they save valuable minutes or even hours every time they use this service, but it will be free of charge.

Do the math and it’ll be pretty obvious that using PC Express pickup services every week or a couple of times a month makes both the annual subscription and the monthly subscription worth their price.

So, order your groceries online and pull into a designated PC Express parking stall when you arrive at Superstore, call the PC Express number, give the representative the parking stall number, and your groceries will be delivered right to your car. You can even stay in the car and wait for the staff to load the groceries in the car trunk.

Now, if that’s not premium service, I don’t know what is!

Travellers Win Up Front: PC Insiders Travel Credit

Travellers or even staycationers have a couple of incentives to get the annual subscription. The most obvious is the $99 PC Travel credit, which can be used for flights, hotels, car rentals, even cruises, and vacation packages. This credit can be redeemed at check-out either at PC Travel online or through the call center.

Another incentive for travellers to subscribe to PC Insiders is that the combination with a PC Financial Mastercard can earn them additional PC Optimum points which can be used for discounts in purchases at PC Travel.

These two benefits alone pay the price of a traveller’s subscription and a little bit more.

Related: Best travel credit cards in Canada

PC Insiders Report, Now Called PC Insiders Collection

PC Insiders Collection
PC Insiders Collection

Many Canadians remember Loblaw’s long-running “President’s Choice Insider’s Report”—a weekly flyer introduced in the early 1980s with product descriptions that read almost like stories instead of marketing copies.

After launching PC Insiders as a subscription program, Loblaw converted the Report into PC Insiders Collection—a list of products very similar to President’s Choice, which is designed especially for the holidays. Online, the products are curated into different categories and occasions, including BBQ, picnic, road trip and summer nights, and accompanied by recipes and tips.

PC Insiders offers its subscribers sneak peeks and exclusive offers on PC Insiders Collection items. The products are available at most Loblaw grocery stores, including Loblaws, Zehrs and Real Canadian Superstore.

The Annual gift

If you choose the annual subscription, your PC travel credit will be renewed every year on your subscription renewal date and you will receive a surprise gift any day of the year. It will usually include treats, and a useful small kitchen or home tool for an approximate value of $20.

PC Insiders gift box
A PC Insiders gift Box

Loblaw will send you an email for delivery arrangements around the time they plan to treat you. So, keep the mailing address linked to your PC Insiders account up to date.

Drawbacks

It all sounds great, but the program is not without its downfalls:

  • First, you have to pay for the subscription.

This is the most obvious downside to PC Insiders, an exceptional condition considering we’re talking about a loyalty program. It is worth noting that you can only start using your membership and log in to your online account after your payment is processed, which in some cases may require a day or two.

  • The list of products with a discount (200 points per 1$ spent) are expensive

All brands of baby diapers and formula, PC Black Label Collection, PC Organics products, Joe Fresh purchases, and beautyBOUTIQUE online orders are all higher-margin products. Not exactly the kind of things people on a budget would buy, with the exception of families who need those baby products.

So, despite all the potential savings, PC insiders might not be a good option for everybody.

The Bottom Line

Being a loyalty program, it is no surprise that PC Insiders is very convenient for regular customers of Loblaw brands. It does offer benefits for all kinds of customers, but it seems targeted at two types of young adults:

  • Those who are single and care about how they look and what they eat in their daily life, but also want to save some money.
  • Parents with babies.

The annual subscription is definitely well worth the $99 for them. Even the monthly plan would bring them more value than they’d have to pay.

PC Financial Mastercard cardholders should also consider subscribing, as with the Optimum-MasterCard-Insiders combo they can rack up points very quickly and redeem them with PC Travel for travel expenses or at other Loblaws-affiliated stores for everyday purchases.

The third group of people who could benefit from the program are those who are too busy to go to the grocery store and are frequent users of pick-up and delivery services. PC Insiders will help them save a ton of time and money.

If you are not in these three groups, are unsure about subscribing or would simply like to try, you can pay the monthly fee for one month, and if you’re satisfied with the savings and the service, switch over to the annual membership.

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