Tesco pays out 67 mln stg of loyalty vouchers early
* Says Clubcard membership up at 15.4 million
* Says shoppers treating themselves more
LONDON, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Tesco Plc (TSCO.L), Britain's biggest retailer, has brought forward 67 million pounds ($110 million) ofcustomer loyalty rewards as store groups battle for custom in the run-up to the key Christmas trading period.
The supermarket group said on Monday it was sending out the vouchers ahead of the normal quarterly release in February.
"This seasonal surprise is to help customers at a time when we know they will appreciate it most," Commercial Director Richard Brasher told Reuters.
The payout is the latest sign of competition heating up among retailers.
Earlier on Monday, mutually owned retailer the Co-operative Group announced price cuts and promotions which it said were worth 200 million pounds. [ID:nGEE5AQ0Z1]
Tesco has already announced 250 million pounds of price cuts and deals, while rival Asda (owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N)) has also stepped up competition and forecast the most competitive Christmas for a decade. [ID:nLC53700]
Brasher said he expected Christmas trading would be "determinedly competitive" but added the early payout of loyalty vouchers was within Tesco's planned budget.
He said there were signs customers were trading up to more expensive ranges.
"I think people are more in control this time. Last year they were in a state of shock," he said in a telephone interview.
"I think they're more confident to trade up a bit."
Brasher said Tesco's move to double reward points on its Clubcard customer loyalty scheme in August had paid off, with membership up at 15.4 million and holders using their cards more often.
Tesco said that, including the latest payout, it will have handed out 529 million pounds in cash-equivalent vouchers to Clubcard holders this year.
Brasher, who has been tipped as a possible candidate for chief executive at Wm Morrison Supermarkets (MRW.L), declined to say whether he would be interested in the job.
"I enjoy working at Tesco. It'll be fine just here," he said. ($1=.6105 pounds) (Reporting by Mark Potter; Editing by Mike Nesbit) ((email@example.com; +44 20 7542-2943; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org))