McDonald's has given its U.S. mobile app a major makeover a year after its national debut, with a modern look, but it still lacks one thing some restaurant patrons crave: mobile ordering.
The world's largest restaurant company said the changes are based on consumer feedback. When people update or download the app, they will now see digital French fries jumping for joy from the iconic red McDonald's carton. The app then reveals various deals and includes new entertainment such as trivia games and digital keyboard stickers, along with the restaurant locator and menu details that already existed in the app.
Even with the overhaul, McDonald's U.S. app continues to lag behind apps from other restaurants including Chick-fil-A and Starbucks in one major area – letting patrons order ahead. McDonald's has mobile ordering in markets such as Australia, Canada, Germany and the U.K., but ordering ahead does not seem to be in the chain's immediate future in the U.S. market.
"We're still exploring mobile ordering," said Julia Vander Ploeg, VP-U.S. digital, McDonald's. "We do not have an active test going right now but we are exploring it."
McDonald's, which sees 26 million daily visitors in the U.S., said its app has been downloaded a little more than 14 million times. It did not say how many users had registered to use the app, but it has seen strong registration rates over the past year.
"The most important thing for us is does this help get customers into the restaurant and excited to visit McDonald's," Ms. Vander Ploeg said.
So far, McDonald's seems encouraged by the results.
"Users who are engaging in the app are spending three times more per month through the app than they were at the beginning of the year," she said, citing how often customers redeemed deals and used a McCafe Rewards program through August.
With McCafe Rewards, a punch-card promotion that has been integrated into the app, patrons who buy five McCafe drinks get one free. In September, there were 801,000 McCafe scans, a new monthly record, McDonald's said.
Meanwhile, other restaurants have been rolling out their own updates. This month, Starbucks said those who use its "mobile order and pay" platform can now save their favorite items in order to be able to order them more easily. A year after Starbucks launched mobile order and pay, it accounts for more than 5% of the chain's transactions in the U.S. Starbucks rewards program members spend roughly three times more than non-members. In July, Starbucks said it had more than 12.3 million active rewards members in the country.
Others are also making strides. In June, Dunkin' Donuts did a national launch of its version of on-the-go ordering, giving members of its DD Perks Rewards program the ability to place a mobile order up to a day in advance. Dunkin' Donuts surpassed 5 million DD Perks Rewards members in August. And on June 1, Chick-fil-A launched its Chick-fil-A One app, which includes mobile ordering, with a free sandwich offer. By July 2, Chick-fil-A One, which replaced the chain's earlier app, had been downloaded more than 5 million times. Chipotle, which already allows patrons to order through its app, said this month it is introducing a faster, easier way to order from mobile devices that does not require patrons to download its app.
One holdup for McDonald's could be that the majority of McDonald's transactions in the U.S. involve cash. Users of other apps typically link their accounts to credit cards or load funds directly into the app to take advantage of ordering ahead. Still, McDonald's was one of the earliest merchants to accept Apple Pay.
Ms. Vander Ploeg said McDonald's is strategically updating its app. The U.S. is the first market to get the new global platform, which allows McDonald's to tailor the app experience specific to each market when it is launched and deployed, she said. Plus, the app will start to feel more personalized.
"The app's going to allow us to over time tailor what customers get based on their preferences," said Ms. Vander Ploeg.
Early reviews of the updated version of the app in Apple's App Store were generally more positive than reviews for the older version. McDonald's said it worked with Method on the design of the app; Sapient on the implementation with McDonald's internal team; and with Snaps on the functionality of the digital stickers.
McDonald's plans to promote the app, which was updated on Oct. 27, include TV spots that will mention the McCafe buy five, get one deal. It also plans to launch an in-app holiday season game on Black Friday that lets users shake and reveal a gift that can be redeemed and shared with friends.