Separating Frappés from Frappuccinos is about to get even trickier. While Starbucks quietly inches fast-food-ward (among its new spring menu items: tortilla chips and dip), McDonald’s is laboring to make stand-alone McCafés happen, and now, on top of this rebranding, it’s also promising to add a loyalty program just like the one Starbucks uses.
Strategizing for McDonald’s version, which may take until 2017 to launch, probably got kicked into high gear after Starbucks made the My Starbucks Rewards program a lot less rewarding, pissing off people who’d been cardholders for years. Mickey D’s actually rolled out a bare-bones McCafé mobile app in October, but right now it’s little more than a store locator and a digital punch card (five drink purchases entitle users to their sixth for free). This new loyalty program will be “more robust,” according to McDonald’s USA president Mike Anders. He didn’t give any specifics beyond saying rewards will expand to more than just free drinks, and they’ll also be tied to the number of visits — which sounds incredibly like the system Starbucks had in place before the revamp. It seems including free breakfast items would be a given, considering all-day breakfast’s monster success.
It’s true that Starbucks cardholders can buy all the lattes they want and never receive a free birthday McGriddles, but the question is will any sane person actually commit to eating that much McDonald’s? Rewards will reportedly carry the caveat that they’ll expire if they aren’t used within a certain time limit, which could turn an unhealthy occasional splurge into a gut-busting regular routine. Anyway, what Anders sees as a carrot approach may sound strangely like a stick to a lot of people: Those who sign up for the program should expect the chain to harass them if, in Anders’s phraseology, “we see a thawing off.”