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McDonald’s has big hopes for its loyalty program

The burger giant, which takes MyMcDonald’s Rewards national today, is already seeing people sign up for the program.
McDonald's loyalty program
Photograph: Shutterstock

Earlier this week, Vicki Chancellor, an Atlanta-area McDonald’s franchisee, served 15 customers while working in one of her restaurants. About 60% of them were members of the chain’s new loyalty program, MyMcDonald’s Rewards, which kicked off in the market a week earlier.

While 15 orders hardly made a representative sample, especially for a chain as big as McDonald’s, it nevertheless gives Chancellor hope that the program will be popular once it goes national.

“This is something our customers have been waiting for,” Chancellor said in an interview. “It’s going to be a tremendous success. From what we saw in the test markets, it gave us all the information we needed to say yes, this is ready for prime time.”

“I have more than high hopes,” she added.

McDonald’s has been working on its loyalty program for some time, hoping to place it alongside rivals like Starbucks and Dunkin’—not to mention the burger chain Wendy’s—in terms of giving customers rewards for coming back. The chain is taking the long-awaited program national today. 

Such programs have become a must-have in the industry. More than half of transactions at Starbucks’ company-owned locations are members of its Starbucks Rewards program. Close to half of the transactions at Papa John’s come from its 20 million loyalty members. And Wendy’s program, started last year, already has 13 million members. Panera Bread said last year that its loyalty program has 40 million members and that more than half of its transactions come from those customers.

McDonald’s has the size and reach to generate more members than any of them. The chain has 20 million active app users, and the company is already one of the biggest breakfast chains in the country.

Customers have been increasingly demanding such programs from their restaurants, having seen them at hotels and airports and now other chains like Starbucks. Chancellor said on a recent visit to Las Vegas, one of the program’s test markets, customers told her that it was past due. “One of the customers said she had been coming to McDonald’s for 60 years and was excited for the opportunity to gain rewards,” she said.

The burger giant has already been courting potential loyalty members. Company executives have said that the performance of the program has bested expectations in test markets. Many markets have already started implementing it, and the chain has been training employees to serve loyalty customers using online simulators.

Chancellor, who chairs the McDonald’s USA Franchisee Marketing Committee, said MyMcDonald’s Rewards is designed to be easy for the customer. They download the company’s app, opt in to the rewards program and collect points they can use for free food.

Drive-thru order takers first ask if customers are members of the program, which integrates payment, enabling them to skip the first window. That enables such customers to get through the lane just as quickly.

That’s important for a chain that depends heavily on drive-thru customers and needs to get them through quickly. About 70% of the chain’s customers pre-pandemic, and 90% now, go through that lane.

McDonald’s next week plans to give away a lot of french fries to get customers to sign up for the program on July 13. It will give 66 customers 1 million MyMcDonald’s Rewards points, for instance. And one customer will get free fries for life.

For the company, the loyalty program has been a long time coming. But Chancellor said it has given the chain time to learn. “We were not the first,” she said. “But we do a tremendous job learning the different elements of the program to make sure we’re hitting on what the customers wanted. It is time that we rewarded our customers.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated to correct when the program is taken national. 

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