McDonald’s rolled out its first nationwide rewards program on Thursday, after piloting it earlier this year in parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
The launch, which marks the first loyalty program in the company’s 66-year history, comes as the fast-food giant has been refocusing on technology and implementing digital menu boards and self-order kiosks across its storefronts.
The new program — which was also tested in Las Vegas, Tucson, and Phoenix — caters to the growing need for customer personalization and convenience, a company spokesperson said in an e-mail: “[W]e’ve taken the time to listen to our customers and ensure we are building the McDonald’s experience that is right for them and fits their needs in an evolving world.”
Users earn 100 points per dollar with every purchase and are connected through the company’s mobile app, where they are automatically enrolled. A 1,500-point reward gets you treats like a vanilla cone or hash browns, or you can save up 6,000 points for a Big Mac.
The program earned positive reviews from customers at Cherag Selhi’s 18 McDonald’s franchises across Greater Boston, which participated in the pilot program beginning in January.
“They’re seeing the value of, ‘Hey I’m spending money here, but I can make it back,’” Selhi said. “It’s the experience of the future for our customers.”
McDonald’s foray into the loyalty market will help the company collect consumer information and better tailor its marketing to a vegetarian, say, or someone with a preference for chicken, said Andrew Robbins, CEO of Paytronix Systems, a Newton software company that worked on loyalty programs for Panera and Jimmy John’s.
Loyalty programs typically collect e-mail addresses, birthdays, and cellphone numbers, but they also can decipher favorite foods, preferred order times, and which advertisements are most enticing, Robbins said. Making a loyalty program easy to sign up for through an app or linked e-mail breeds success, he added.
McDonald’s is also offering a 1,500 point sign-up bonus that users can cash in for a McChicken sandwich or vanilla cone after their first purchase. (Data from Northwestern University’s Medill Spiegel Research Center suggest allowing customers to earn rewards immediately is a smart move that can increase spending.)
Offering free stuff on sign-up is a good start, but companies should focus on ways to continuously engage customers, said Claire Tassin, a director analyst at the research firm Gartner who focuses on consumer buying behavior and rewards programs. To build brand loyalty, she suggests implementing games to accelerate rewards, a method used by Starbucks, Chipotle, and Dunkin’.
Robbins cautions against overcomplicating a program, however.
Offering too many rewards options could lead to indecisiveness and slow down a busy lunch line, he said. “You don’t want someone going, ‘I have 2,000 points, what do I spend it on?’ ”