Why the Best QSR Rewards Programs Must Be Mobile

Why the Best QSR Rewards Programs Must Be Mobile

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Quick service restaurant (QSR) brands have a lot of opportunities in today’s fast-paced market, but must be poised to take advantage of them—and in a way that resonates with consumers. Consumers aren’t as patient as they used to be. Many no longer sit through commercials, send letters, or wait more than a few days to receive their online orders. It stands to reason, then, that QSR brands, with their efficiency-based business model, are particularly appealing to them.

However, with that speed comes a challenge: a consumer’s decision about which QSR brand to patronize is often made in mere seconds. QSR brands have a very slim window of opportunity to appeal to potential customers. This is why their rewards programs must be mobile, so they can be as accessible as the brands themselves.

Rewards programs that make life more convenient for QSR customers can be powerful drivers for increasing market share. Consumers want to be able to collect points, find locations, and get more information on company products right from their phones. QSR brands that offer those resources, via rewards programs on a mobile app, are the ones who will have the edge in the split-second decisions about tacos versus burgers and fries.

The Factors Affecting Which QSR Brands Consumers Choose

QSR brands face a challenge that’s entirely unique to them when compared to other models in the foodservice industry: When consumers choose a QSR brand, they do so impulsively. One study showed that less than half of those who dined out at a QSR left the house with the main intention of eating at one. Generally, when someone is destination dining, i.e. when their specific reason for going out is to eat at a restaurant, they do so with full-service restaurants. QSR brands are usually just one stop that a consumer will make while they’re out shopping, running errands, or headed to an ultimate destination.

Specifically, consumers choose QSR brands based on:


Convenience is the number one factor in why a consumer chooses one QSR over another, with 48% of eaters choosing a restaurant based on simplicity alone. This encompasses many considerations, like short wait times and accessible locations. It can also include the availability of online menus and ordering opportunities that allow consumers to place an order in advance and pick up their items without having to wait.


Despite the fact that only about half of consumers specifically went out with the intention of eating at a QSR, once they had made the decision, about 78% knew exactly where they wanted to go. This indicates that quick service customers are a loyal group and tend to stick with brands they are familiar with.

Food preference:

Menu options were a factor for about 32% of consumers that chose a QSR, for obvious reasons. One area where this is becoming more significant is that an increased number of consumers are now seeking options with less artificial ingredients, which is why many in the industry are eliminating everything from GMOs to additives and preservatives. As ingredients are very important to customers, being able to give them this information via mobile can help create an edge.


While price would be expected to be a primary driver in QSR decision making, it’s surprisingly low on the list. In fact, it was noted that only 12% of consumers use price as a primary motivator.

When setting up a QSR rewards program, it’s important to understand why consumers choose QSR in the first place: convenience. If the consumer must go to a website, keep receipts, or hold onto a punch card, you’re probably not going to see a lot of engagement through the program. Customers should be able to easily participate and enjoy the benefits without having to take a lot of steps to use them. A mobile rewards program is ideal for this as it delivers your brand’s message when the consumer is most likely to pay attention to it.

Following Consumers With a QSR Mobile Rewards Program Campaign

These days, rewards programs must be mobile to make an impact. Mobile rewards programs offer your brand the ability to deliver timely messages while the consumer is likely to visit a QSR. Taco Bell is one such brand that has used the convenience of mobile rewards apps to improve conversion—even using it to boost participation in a fundraising event—and is constantly testing out new avenues to drive market share.

A recent example of this occurred through the brand’s mobile-based Location for Good campaign. Taco Bell used its smartphone-based rewards program to notify users of an upcoming event designed to raise funds for its Live Más scholarship. Users of the rewards app were notified via a personalized mobile ad that portions of the purchases of the Doritos Locos taco would be paid into the program over a two-week period. The message was sent when users were close to a participating location. As a result, the brand increased store visits in the US by about 170,000 in two weeks. One out of every four of their rewards users participated.

As convenience was the primary driver, sending a targeted, personalized message as consumers were close to a location improved their fundraising efforts. This is a strategy all QSR brands can use to increase sales and market share as the power of mobile will allow them to leverage convenience as a conversion driver.

What Customers Want From the Best QSR Mobile Rewards Programs

Mobile rewards programs aren’t simply beneficial for gaining the consumer’s attention through timely advertising. Nearly one-third of consumers use mobile almost every time they visit a QSR. Many of these rewards programs offer amenities that consumers want, which can be used to increase the size of their order and the frequency of their visits. The most engaging features are:

Menu browsing:

Consumers who use mobile rewards apps want to be able to review all the offerings of a location on their phones. This should also include ingredients, calorie counts, and other specifics about menu items.

Location searching:

This is possibly one of the easiest parts of a mobile app to leverage thanks to the regular use of GPS via smartphones. Consumers want to be able to search for locations, not in a specific zip code or city but, instead, they want to be able to view location options based on where they are physically located in the moment.

Order placement:

The most important aspect of QSR brands’ delivery is the speed of service. Consumers do not want to wait in long lines for their food. This is why mobile options that allow them to order and pick up quickly are highly appealing.

Rewards tracking:

Of course, the main reason a consumer will use a rewards program is to gain points for their purchases. As such, they want to join programs that give them the opportunity to track rewards easily. Using mobile allows them to easily collect and track their rewards points without having to save receipts or carry a membership card. Easy access to their rewards encourages them to participate.

One surprising statistic about those who frequently visit QSR brands is that 85% would visit certain QSR brands more often if the QSR offered apps that improved their experience. That tells us there is a lot of opportunity not just for sales in QSR apps, but for gaining market share via these apps as well.

How Offering Mobile Rewards Programs Benefits QSR Brands

Aside from simply getting consumers through the door, mobile-based rewards programs offer brands additional opportunities to grow their market share, engage customers, and increase revenue. Mobile-based programs allow QSR brands to follow customers through their day, giving them the opportunity to create an ongoing relationship. Interacting with a consumer through a rewards program can:

Increase basket size:

The convenience of mobile ordering and menu browsing can create a major avenue for stores to increase sales. Taco Bell reported seeing a 30% higher average checkout via mobile when compared to in-store ordering. Giving consumers more time to browse the menu, at their convenience, is likely a strong reason why more money is spent via this avenue.

Drive future visits:

Using mobile location-based advertising can encourage undecided consumers to choose a specific location. As most consumers who choose QSR don’t decide ahead of time, in-the-moment advertising allows brands to reach out to them during that short window of opportunity. As it was noted that QSR customers are often very loyal, sometimes getting them through the door once is enough to keep them coming back time and time again.

Create permissive use:

Rewards programs are ideal for gaining an attentive audience for advertisements, as consumers expect to receive them and opt-in as part of the program. This allows QSRs to reach out to them for future promotions and events, which creates an ongoing benefit for both the user and the brand.

Improve brand perception:

When a rewards program is used in conjunction with a fundraiser, like in the example of Taco Bell, this creates a unique opportunity to allow consumers to give back by shopping. The mobile notification of the event makes it convenient, encouraging more customers to participate. And, effectively marketing the event improves public perception of the brand.

Offer customer insights:

Another benefit that can’t be denied is the data which can be leveraged by offering mobile-based rewards programs. Instead of just knowing which stores make the most revenue, brands can gain actionable insights to see exactly where these consumers are coming from and increase their advertising in those areas. For example, if the brand notices a high number of consumers coming from a nearby shopping plaza, they may decide to distribute flyers or put up signs in that area to improve conversion. The data gained from mobile rewards programs can then be easily used to inform future marketing plans.

These are just a few of the reasons why mobile shopping rewards programs work for QSR brands. Mobile is the key, though, as consumers don’t research QSR brands in advance. They decide on the go, as they’re out and about completing their daily tasks. As the only opportunity you’ll have to connect with them may be via mobile, this is the medium you must leverage for delivering your brand’s message. To reduce the expense of this while taking advantage of the benefits, some QSR brands choose to partner with third-party apps.

Third-Party Apps and QSR Brands

When trying to decide how to roll out a mobile campaign, marketers generally have two choices: they can create an in-house app or they can partner with a third-party solution. Sometimes, they choose to do a combination of the two by using their own app in conjunction with one or more additional platforms. This is the approach Taco Bell took during its scholarship campaign. It’s also one frequently chosen by brands that have underperforming in-house rewards apps.

The problem with effectively leveraging a mobile app created solely for an individual QSR is adoption. To gain users for a branded app, you have to get them in the door in the first place. That’s not practical for reaching out to a customer who has never tried your brand because QSR customers tend to stick with what they know—unless they’re given a reason to try something new. However, third-party apps that combine rewards programs from several different brands can be used to reach new target audiences.

As a third-party app will often combine many different brands under one rewards program, consumers will likely be using them when they’re out shopping. This creates a cross-marketing opportunity: when that consumer decides to go to a QSR, they’ll probably turn to that app for a suggestion.

Using a third-party app also helps offset the cost of launching an app while simultaneously exposing your brand to that app’s existing and active audience. This is how you can get your brand’s mobile message in front of consumers who may have never tried it before. Leveraging third-party relationships can allow you to take advantage of everything mobile advertising has to offer—without having to worry about the tricky element of adoption.

It’s clear that one of the best opportunities for QSR brand growth comes from mobile rewards programs. QSR patrons make the decisions of where they’re going to eat in only moments. If you can get your brand’s message in front of them during those moments, you can get them through your doors. A high performing third-party app can be your best ally in taking advantage of a mobile rewards program.

Shopkick’s platform is designed specifically for working with customers on the move. Our partners see the benefit of mobile rewards programs through access to our diverse, active audience. To get in touch with our team about how you can become a partner, contact us today.



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Why the Best QSR Rewards Programs Must Be Mobile



Shopkick is the fun and easy way to earn free gift cards for the shopping you already do. Download the app now!

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