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Chipotle is handing out free money

The burrito chain launched its new loyalty program Tuesday and is giving away up to $250,000 through Venmo.
Photograph courtesy of Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill is so excited to finally launch its new loyalty program that it’s giving away money.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based burrito chain is giving away up to $250,000 to about 25,000 fans every day from today through Friday over the Venmo payment app. The payments, ranging from $1 to $500, are not connected to signing up for the loyalty program.

The company has been testing its rewards app for months, promising a national expansion this year, in a bid to “make the brand more accessible” and “strengthen” its relationships with frequent users.

Customers who enroll at Chipotle.com/Rewards can earn 10 points for every $1 spent in the restaurant, online or in the app. Members who make their initial purchase can get free chips and guacamole, and they also get birthday rewards.

Once they get to 1,250 points, customers can get a free entree.

Based on Chipotle’s average check of just under $12, that would get customers rewards after about 10 visits, but the company said it will have double-bonus days and other features that are targeted based on user experience.

“We really wanted to make it special,” Tressie Lieberman, vice president of digital and off-premise for Chipotle, said in an interview. “We have bonuses targeted for customers’ behavior to help people get rewards faster.”

Chipotle customers have long wanted a rewards program. “It’s one of our most requested features from our customers,” Lieberman said.

The company did have a short-lived loyalty program in 2016, called Chiptopia, but ended it with a promise of something more permanent. But the permanent solution didn’t come, as the company overhauled management, ultimately replacing company founder Steve Ells as CEO with Brian Niccol.

Chipotle finally began testing the loyalty program last year in Phoenix, Kansas City, Mo., and Columbus, Ohio. “We’re going through our stage-gate process, understanding customer feedback about the program, marketing and operations,” Lieberman said. “We’re taking that and applying that to the national program.”

The promotion with Venmo is also interesting, even if it’s only connected with the loyalty program as part of an announcement.

Customers can submit the phone number associated with their Venmo account at ChipotleRewardMe.com and, within 24 hours, will be alerted of a payment in the app, along with a note from Chipotle and a pepper emoji.

Chipotle said it is not capturing data from those entries. But the partnership is a sign of Chipotle’s popularity on the payment app. The company said it is one of the most mentioned brands on the site.

The partnership makes Chipotle the first major brand to use Venmo’s technology to engage with customers. And this will make it the first restaurant brand to be able to pay its customers.

“It’s an unexpected place for us to show up and reward people,” Lieberman said.

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