McDonald’s hopes for discounts, sweepstakes will boost mobile sales

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last holiday season, MC Donalds relied on singer Mariah Carey’s star power and discounts to drive customers to her mobile app.

This year, the Chicago restaurant giant is taking it a step further by giving customers the chance to win a free McDonald’s for themselves and three of their lifetime friends with every mobile order. The chain also offers exclusive access to branded merch releases and grocery deals like a 50-cent double cheeseburger.

The three-week promotion, which began Monday, is part of the company’s broader digital strategy of driving traffic to its mobile app through seasonal promotions and generating recurring revenue without impacting profitability.

In recent years, restaurant companies have turned to loyalty programs to boost their mobile app downloads and convince customers to keep coming back. McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said in late October that about two-thirds of U.S. customers who’ve used the app in the past year have been active on it in the past 90 days.

Tariq Hassan, McDonald’s US chief marketing and customer experience officer, told CNBC that app users are “more meaningful and profitable” than other customers.

A little over a year after its launch in the US, McDonald’s loyalty program has 25 million members who have been active on the company’s mobile app in the last 90 days (as of September 30).

For comparison, Starbuckswhich has had a loyalty program for more than a decade, reported 28.7 million active US members last quarter. chipotle Mexican Grill’s three-year-old rewards program has 30 million members, though the chain doesn’t disclose how many have been active in the past three months.

“Boring” creativity

Hassan, who joined McDonald’s more than a year ago after a stint at McDonald’s Petco, said around 40% of digital customers are starting to use his app thanks to marketing and paid media. The fast-food giant has gotten creative, going beyond advertising and discounts to attract new app users, particularly through seasonal promotions.

For example, the company organized the “Camp McDonald’s” for four weeks this summer. The program included discounts on its menu items, virtual concerts, and limited-edition merchandise collaborations for mobile app users.

Hassan said the company aims to add 2 million app users during the virtual camp, but didn’t share how many members it actually added. (The promotion also angered some customers when problems with a third-party website led to hours of virtual queues to buy a sold-out Grimace-themed pool.)

Nevertheless, McDonald’s digital strategy should not be flashy. Hassan said he told his team to be comfortable with being “boring”.

“You don’t change your strategy just to change it to do what’s new and exciting,” he said.

Among other things, McDonald’s has gotten used to being boring through its menu. In the early days of the pandemic, McDonald’s, like so many other restaurant chains, scaled back its offerings, eliminating items like parfaits and salads to focus on classic items like Big Mac and McNuggets. The move away from time-limited menu items proved successful, spurring sales growth in the US even as lockdowns were lifted and consumers resumed their old routines.

McDonald’s digital promotions have also drawn on core menu items. Celebrity Meals in 2020 and 2021 will put the spotlight on the favorite dishes of musicians like rapper Saweetie, with classic dishes like french fries and cheeseburgers.

“When you have that kind of strategic consistency, you have more time to pack those windows with really interesting, exciting and unexpected experiences,” Hassan said.

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