THE CLARUS Blog

Fast Food, Faster Rewards – How McDonald’s and Burger King Hope to Build More Customer Loyalty in 2021

Starbucks and Chipotle have created millions of brand advocates through their respective loyalty programs.

Starbucks Rewards has nearly 20 million members while Chipotle Rewards has nearly the same amount.

Now, two of the largest fast-food chains in the U.S. – McDonald’s and Burger King – are testing loyalty programs to increase repeat visits and take advantage of the massive growth in digital ordering since the pandemic started.

And both brands doing it by rewarding faster and more often, getting more personal, and taking the steps to test and optimize the programs before rolling out nationwide.

Our new 2021 loyalty industry data study found that 86% of retailers that offer benefits within the first week say their loyalty program members shop at least once a week. That number goes down to 63% when retailers offer benefits within the first month.

Instant loyalty benefits like item upsizing and free coffee are featured in both the McDonald’s and Burger King programs.

McDonald’s has entered its next phase of testing a loyalty program in the U.S. before it rolls out nationwide later this year. In November, McDonald’s began testing the program in Arizona and Nevada and, more recently, added restaurants in New England.

Roughly 900 locations out of McDonald’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants are now part of the test.

The program also offers menu item suggestions and deals at order kiosks, the mobile app, and digital menu boards at the drive-thru. Members will even be referred to by name when entering the drive-thru lane.

Not only will customers be able to earn points, but McDonald’s employees will be able to earn loyalty points by completing training tied to the loyalty program, and it will all encourage the use of the McDonald’s app.

Meanwhile, Burger King is testing a loyalty program in five U.S. markets – Los Angeles, Long Island, Miami, New Jersey, and New York City. The test program is called “Royalty Perks.”

Program users receive 10 “crowns” for each dollar spent, which can then be used to get free menu items. Members can also earn points on orders from Burger King’s website or app.

Also, Burger King’s program will hand out free daily perks, such as upsizing members’ drinks or fries and award double points throughout a member’s birthday month.

While McDonald’s officials plan to launch its program nationwide by the end of 2021, Burger King is taking it slowly. There is no set launch date for a nationwide rollout.

“We will take our time to get things right, so we are going through a fairly rigorous scale-up, so we learn as we go and get it right before it hits nationwide,” said Ellie Doty, Burger King’s North American Chief Marketing Officer.

Read more about why loyalty program optimization needs to be a way of life.

Since the pandemic began, Starbucks and Chipotle have found great success especially due to the uptick in digital ordering.

Jason Scoggins, Director, Loyalty & CRM, Chipotle, elaborated on this point during an interview with Clarus Commerce last year.

“Even with in-restaurant dining opening back up, our digital sales momentum remains strong,” Jason explained. “We’re finding that the majority of guests are opting to take their food to-go. Increasing access and reducing friction is key. We’re providing guests with more means to experience Chipotle how and where they want it.”

Jason said many new customers discovered Chipotle since the pandemic began.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we are really focused on leveraging Chipotle Rewards to keep those customers engaged – whether that’s driving continued behavior toward our digital channels or introducing them to our in-restaurant experiences,” Jason added. “We have definitely seen customers pivot to digital ordering, particularly when it comes to order ahead for pick up.”

Only time will tell if McDonald’s and Burger King reach the same loyalty heights as Starbucks and Chipotle. But, starting the process and keeping your customers at the center of everything you do is the right way to build loyalty.

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