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Chipotle Leads the Next Digital Leap Forward in Fast Casual Loyalty

Right from the start, it became clear that the pandemic would have a disproportionate impact on fast casual brands. Those that had embraced mobile and digital tactics such as online ordering, curbside pick-up, and third-party delivery prior to the pandemic were ahead of the game, while others were left scrambling to catch up when the global shutdowns began, creating a significant digital divide.

Now, a second divide has emerged as customer behaviors again shift and settle in for the long haul. This next phase of recovery will offer a new landscape for fast casual brands to thrive, where digital convenience and loyalty will be at the center.

The 2nd Digital Divide: Convenience and Personalization Reign

Covid-19 accelerated the transition to digital with more consumers moving to touch-free payments. Non-cash payments at brick-and-mortar stores, for example, jumped by an additional 2.5% points beyond the ongoing upward trend. This led to an acceleration of the shift from cash to electronic payments by a full year.

The leap forward for electronic payments has also come along with an increased demand for convenience and personalization. A whopping 47% of consumers say they’re willing to pay more for a better CX today than they were a year ago. Most consumers (70%) also make a point of buying from businesses that provide them with a great buying experience.

Just as we saw with the first digital divide when the pandemic hit, brands that are prepared to meet consumers’ evolved expectations in this second phase will be the ones that thrive.

Just as we saw with the first digital divide when the pandemic hit, brands that are prepared to meet consumers’ evolved expectations in this second phase will be the ones that thrive.

The Chipotle Incentives and Rewards Exchange

Chipotle Mexican Grill is a recognized pioneer in the fast casual space and an excellent example of a company poised to succeed in the next phase. We at SessionM, a Mastercard Company have had the privilege of working alongside its team as they’ve brought innovation to digital and loyalty over the past several years.

In early 2019, Chipotle had about 8 million customers in its loyalty base. It rolled out a new rewards program in March of that year and today has grown to 23 million members. Now, as it works to further engage that base and keep up momentum, Chipotle is re-platforming with new capabilities for reaching each customer with the information, incentives, and offers that mean the most to their individual lifestyle.

One of the innovative features it has launched is a new Incentives and Rewards Exchange, consisting of its own rewards store where customers can turn their loyalty into merchandise, charitable donations and more. Breaking out of a straight points-based system and offering redemption options that extend beyond the menu, Chipotle is creating new value for its customers.

Chipotle customers now have many more rewards options instead of one – an expansion that was driven by customer feedback. Now customers can get rewards after just two visits on average, and those rewards can be used for things they’re passionate about. The rewards alignment with charities in particular speaks to passion points for both the customer and Chipotle as a company.

In the future, Chipotle’s loyalty program is now architected so new rewards can easily be added and other benefits unlocked for customers.

As the new fast casual landscape emerges, Chipotle is poised to turn its innovation in digital and loyalty into more meaningful customer relationships. A new bar is being set for the fast casual industry – one that’s centered on convenience and personalization for the individual – that restaurants of all types can learn from.

If you’re looking be among the leaders in the second digital divide, we’d be glad to get in touch.

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