The Co-operative Food - Bromley and membership board

Source: Southern Co-op

The Co-operative membership affinity scheme was first established in 2009

Southern Co‑op will stop accepting the Co-op Group membership card in its stores from next month.

The leading regional society is withdrawing from the Co-operative membership affinity scheme to focus on its own proposition.

The Co-operative membership affinity scheme was first established in 2009, when five participating societies were paying a share of the profits to their members.

At the time, members of all participicating societies received a dividend payment based on their spend, regardless of which Co-op store in which the spend occurred.

However, Southern Co-op told The Grocer it was looking to maximise value for its members after the Co-op Group moved to a new membership reward structure in 2016 that couldn’t be reciprocal with other societies.

The “unilateral change” meant Group members had continued to earn significant value as a share of the profits when shopping in Southern Co-op stores. However, Southern Co-op members had not received anything when shopping in a Group store, it said.

As a result, the Southern Co-op board said it had decided it was “no longer reasonable” for almost half of its annual share of the profits value to be distributed to members of the Co-op Group without “a mutual benefit for its own members”.

“Whilst the affinity scheme has remained reciprocal with the other partner societies, the number of members of those societies shopping in our stores is very low, and it is not viable to operate a partially reciprocal scheme,” said a Southern Co-op spokeswoman.

“We continue to work closely with other independent societies to maximise value for our members.”

From 1 April, Southern Co-op stores will no longer accept the Co-op Group’s blue membership card and will only allow its own members to use their Southern Co-op plastic or digital card when purchasing goods to earn share of the profits points.

Customers will not be able to use a Southern Co-op membership card in other Co-op society stores to earn share of the profits points from them.

“We consider that it is now in the best interests of our members to retain their Southern Co-op membership card when shopping in our stores to receive a share of the profits and the additional more immediate benefits now available through our membership offer,” the Southern Co-op spokeswoman explained.

“Where our members are shopping in a Co-op Group store, we consider that it is currently in their best interests to also join the Co-op Group as members and to swipe their Co-operative Group card in order to obtain a reward from this spend.

“Likewise, where our members are shopping with other Co-op societies, we have encouraged the holding of dual membership to realise maximum benefit. Digital membership cards now make this more practical for members.”

A Co-op spokeswoman said: “Southern Co-op is refreshing its membership scheme and from 1 April 2021 will no longer be part of the affinity membership arrangement with other co-operative societies (including the Co-op Group), as they look to focus on their own membership scheme.”