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McDonald’s goes with Near Field Communications for sales lift

July 14, 2010

In Japan McDonalds boosts business and customer loyalty using mobile contactless technology, not to mention accepting contactless mobile payments

In Japan McDonald's boosts business and customer loyalty using mobile contactless technology

McDonald’s use of mobile technology proves Near Field Communications will be the next big thing.

NFC is well known for its ability to enable contactless payments. However, when combined with mobile phones, NFC can also be used for customer relationship marketing purposes, distributing mobile coupons and collecting data.

“A couple of weeks ago, while in Japan, I took a break from studying banks and payment solutions and met with an unlikely research subject—McDonald’s,” said Red Gillen, senior analyst at Celent, Boston, in a blog post.

“I met with McDonald’s because during my latest mobile payments research, the fast food chain was frequently mentioned by payments industry players as a merchant to watch,” he said.

“Being an analyst, I decided to check out McDonald’s for myself.”

The focus of the discussion was McDonald’s use of mobile technology for sales lift purposes—that is, as a channel to distribute coupons and special offers to entice customers into McDonald’s restaurants.

In a nutshell, here is how the McDonald’s program works, according to Celent.

Customers—now about 18 million of them—register as members of McDonald’s “Toku” promotional program.

On a weekly basis, in time for the weekend, McDonald’s sends program members a mobile email, with a list of coupons and promotions available that week.

Customers then have two choices.

One is to use their mobile browser to open mobile coupons, which are shown to McDonald’s cashiers—an alpha-numeric promotional code is clearly visible.

The other option, if customers have already downloaded the McDonald’s application, which 8 million consumers have already done, is to download the coupons to their contactless mobile wallet.

Red Gillen is senior analyst at Celent

Red Gillen is senior analyst at Celent

“Either way, the customer gains the benefit of the coupon,” Mr. Gillen said. “However, with the contactless version, there is a special advantage.

“Namely, McDonald’s is able to close the loop between coupon distribution and redemption,” he said.

By associating redemption patterns with a customer’s “Toku” membership ID number, McDonald’s begins to develop intelligence about that customer’s preferences.

Based on this, McDonald’s is able to configure and send out highly personalized promotions—by menu item, specific restaurant, time of day/week, etcetera—to the customer’s mobile phone, which the customer is more likely to redeem.

“This increasingly tightening marketing loop cannot be achieved with plastic membership cards, nor with mobile browser-based coupons,” Mr. Gillen said.

And there is one more thing that contactless technology does for McDonald’s, per Celent.

Once customers tap their contactless coupons, the data is leveraged to immediately send orders back to the kitchen.

“Quite amazing—and quite Japanese,” Mr. Gillen said. “This just goes to show that contactless is not just about payments.

“In fact, it often isn’t about payments at all—although McDonald’s accepts contactless payments with these coupons, it happily accepts cash too,” he said.

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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