Summer travelers stock up on ice, drinks, and dreams

Young women with American flag driving a yellow convertibleAs the national economy continues to rebound from the COVID-19 crisis, Americans are hitting the road in droves: more than 47 million will travel this July 4 weekend, according to AAA. After more than a year of cancelling plans because of the virus, consumers are ready to celebrate this summer, meaning anticipated travel this coming weekend is up 40% year over year – the second-highest rate of Independence Day travel on record.

And while some are jumping back on planes, the vast majority are jumping behind the wheel instead. Americans – 91% – are loading up the proverbial station wagon, blasting the radio, and getting out of dodge the old-fashioned way. That’s the most car travel AAA has ever recorded for the July 4 holiday.

Now, it wouldn’t be a road trip without a stop for gas, so convenience stores should prep for heavy traffic, both at the pump and in the store, which raises the question: what are these travelers buying? […]

Food & Wine, Paytronix project a sweet summer for ice cream sales

The pandemic changed a lot about our culture and society, but one thing that didn’t falter was Americans’ love for ice cream. In fact, the frozen treat saw a sort of renaissance in 2020, as Food & Wine reported in its annual list of the best ice cream in every state.

Many unlikely entrepreneurs, like the magazine’s featured source, Salvatore Caruso, found themselves diving into ice cream-making as a hobby until it became something bigger, setting off a wave of new ice cream endeavors nationwide. The outlet reports that more than half a dozen ice cream makers popped up in New Orleans alone last year – good news for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Paytronix data lends credence to Food & Wine’s finding: Memorial Day Weekend sales were up 37% over weekend sales year-to-date, representing a 74% increase over the bump in sales over the same holiday period in 2020. […]

McLoyalty: One of world’s largest QSR brands enters the loyalty arena

With the announcement that McDonald’s will launch its first loyalty program nationwide in July, one of the world’s top brands has indicated that the shift to digital relationships between restaurants and their guests is accelerating. What’s more, it’s making a commitment to collecting zero-party and first-party data, something that all brands will find increasingly important as the landscape changes around data usage and data privacy.   

Just as e-commerce companies like Amazon have long provided personalized experiences by getting to know their customers, McDonald’s aims to do just that by understanding each customer to keep them both engaged and loyal. That is, encouraging their guests to come back time and time again.  

Of course, the bottom line is the bottom line, and loyalty programs are proven methods for delivering real value, something any of our more than 500 clients can tell you. Loyalty customers deliver larger checks and more frequent visits, but the true value lies in the customer insights. McDonald’s is about to learn the same lessons that companies like Jimmy John’s, Panera Bread, and Papa Murphy’s put into practice every day.  

 The real goal is in getting to know their own customers well enough to motivate guest behavior through AI-driven personalized offers. In the QSR world, which is dominated by low prices and razor-thin margins, brands must understand these motivations and make adjustments without giving away product unnecessarily. This means using artificial intelligence to create personalized, relevant engagement that drives individual action. Some of our clients have seen great success by using AI to predict guest behavior and fashioning the next best offer that generates incremental activity. 

 All of this is only possible if brands like McDonald’s can capture the same zero-party and first-party data that an e-commerce company can grab through a digital property like a website. This means leaning into digital ordering, which is something that consumers are primed to do. Research we conducted with PYMNTS indicated that in 2020, 63% of the $769 billion that consumers spent on restaurants last year was on takeout, and 89% of that spend happened through digital channels. One layer deeper, we found that customers who belong to loyalty programs spend twice as much as non-members.  

 To this end, tying the loyalty program to the mobile app is a key part of the overall strategy. When we surveyed restaurant patrons, 92% of vaccinated restaurant customers who shifted to online ordering during the pandemic told us that they plan to continue ordering this way, even now that restaurants in the US have mostly reopened. 

 With everything centered on the mobile phone, McDonald’s next step could be in creating more digital experiences that make it easier and faster to sign up and use loyalty, even for those who don’t have the app. We’ve helped some of our clients integrate with NFC payments through Apple Pay and Google Wallet so that when a customer taps to pay on their mobile device they can gain or use rewards, or even sign up for the program, right from their phone.  These digital experiences are super easy for the guest and greatly increase program enrollment and engagement. 

 I believe McDonald’s will use loyalty to accomplish what all of our clients do: increase visits, increase spend, and make visiting a habit for their guests, ultimately, boosting the top line to add to the bottom line.