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Aimia’s marketing program will be able to monitor what an eBay customer buys in the U.K.ROBERT GALBRAITH/Reuters

Digital retailing giant eBay Inc. is about to get into the loyalty marketing game, and it has turned to a Canadian company to make the move.

Aimia Inc., the Montreal-based company that manages Aeroplan and other loyalty programs around the world, will announce Thursday that it has inked a strategic partnership with eBay in the United Kingdom. It is the first time that the Web retailer has launched a loyalty program for its customers anywhere in the world.

"It's really the first time that any of the big companies in the digital space have wedded themselves to a loyalty program ... In terms of the big players, like Amazon, Apple, eBay, Google," Aimia chief executive officer Rupert Duchesne said in an interview.

The online auction company will be joining Aimia's Nectar loyalty program, which counts major supermarket chain Sainsbury's as its largest partner in that market. The company has been aggressively building the Nectar business since acquiring it as part of the purchase of Loyalty Management Group in 2007, and it is key to Aimia's international expansion strategy. Last year, it signed on discount airline easyJet PLC as well as British Gas to the program, which now has 18.5 -million members in the U.K.

The U.K. site for eBay attracts roughly 17 million unique visitors a month.

The deal is part of a larger effort by Aimia to build a larger data set including detailed information about its customers purchasing habits – and is indicative of the massive value marketers everywhere are placing on data. Businesses everywhere are struggling to gather this information, and analyze it effectively, in order to better market to clients.

Aimia's strategy is to offer partners a ready-built system to do that – and a bigger pool of information with which to work. The company does not directly share one partner's information with another, but it does blend that data to build better customer profiles.

That means the Nectar program knows not just what a person buys at the grocery store, but what she buys on eBay and how often she flies with easyJet, among other purchasing patterns. It can use that information to predict what that customer likes, and send her better promotions, rewards and offers when she visits any of those partners.

"Each participant in that ecosystem learns a lot more about those customers than it could on its own," Mr. Duchesne said. "...We'll be able to combine the data sets of what propensities eBay customers have to buy things, with who the customers are, which will give us an amazingly rich data set."

Nearly a year ago, Groupe Aeroplan re-branded under the new name Aimia, to better reflect its global expansion, managing loyalty programs around the world. Aimia is hoping that the deal, if it goes well, could be the first step toward building a global loyalty program for all of eBay. "Half of all U.K. online shoppers visit eBay each month and this new partnership will allow us to reward their loyalty and keep them coming back to the site even more often," said Alex Von Schirmeister, vice-president of marketing for eBay in Europe.

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