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McDonald’s borrows from Starbucks playbook with in-store wireless charging

In an attempt to thwart declining sales, fast food brand McDonald’s is providing wireless charging for its customers in Britain to drive in-store sales.

McDonald’s is hoping that leveraging free charging will not only entice more consumers to visit bricks-and-mortar restaurants, but also keep them there for longer. After completing a successful pilot in several of its facilities in Britain, the chain has teamed up with wireless charging solution Aircharge to place 600 chargers in more than 50 restaurants.

“Free Wi-Fi and wireless charging will soon be ubiquitous, expected by consumers with other players like Starbucks getting on board,” said Puneet Mehta, CEO of MobileROI, New York. “Instead of significantly helping the businesses that offer it, these services will hurt the businesses that don’t.

“Of course there is the opportunity to drive more traffic in stores and subsequent sales with people needing to charge their phone, so they pick up a drink or snack to do so. The bigger opportunity, though, is providing an interactive, exciting experience that contextually engages people throughout the entire customer journey – and keeps the brand top of mind,” he said.

“For instance, when a person comes within a short walk of a location and their phone battery is dying on a cold day, a brand could send them alert about their wireless charging with an image of a hot coffee and warm snack to lure them in.”

Ramping up mobile tactics
The Qi wireless charging platform is now available, and is free for customers to use. The charging points are water-resistant, so consumers do not need to be concerned about spilling a drink and disrupting the system.

Smartphones do need support the Qi platform to be charged, but more than 70 mobile device models are equipped to do so. Mobile devices that do not support it may use a plug-in receiver instead.

McDonald’s is also not disclosing which specific stores will offer wireless charging, so that customer traffic will increase across the nation, regardless of location.

“I can foresee an increase for in-store traffic and subsequently some sales as people decide to buy something while waiting for their phone to be charged,” said Lauren Moores, vice president of analytics at Dstillery, New York. “I have certainly chosen a store or cafe based on Wi-Fi ability, and I am not alone.”

Meanwhile, Starbucks and its sister brand Teavana are testing similar waters by offering wireless charging spots that embed Duracell technology into tables and countertops, enabling customers to power up their devices simply by placing it next to them as they enjoy their beverages. This platform is currently available in the San Francisco area, but is planned to reach other major urban areas in 2015.

Starbucks experienced a record year in mobile in 2014, while McDonald’s continues to struggle due to lack of a strong loyalty program and consumer concerns over the quality and healthiness of its food.

Looking ahead
McDonald’s is attempting to start the year strong by revamping its “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign in the United States. The chain began airing television advertisements on Jan. 3 that highlight recent healthy additions to the menu, such as Cuties clementines in Happy Meals.

The brand is also leveraging social media to promote transparency about its food by inviting customers to submit questions such as “What part of the chicken is a Chicken McNugget™?” on Twitter and Facebook. It hopes that the open conversation will squash customer concerns about the freshness of quality of items used and thereby drive more sales.

The brand’s new campaign highlights the freshness of menu items

One tactic that McDonald’s should consider to increase in-store traffic is beacon technology. Beacons can send push notifications to passersby about special offers and even promote the wireless charging stations.

“Another way to surprise and delight consumers is through iBeacons,” Mr. Mehta said. “In 2015, fast food restaurants should adopt the devices within their restaurants to welcome people as they arrive, and disseminate offers, information, videos and other promotional content.

“The devices can also facilitate contactless payments or alert associates when a person who has pre-ordered (another big trend in the industry) has arrived, allowing them to greet them by name and promptly gather the order.”

However, while wireless charging is a strong strategy to use, the brand must leverage a mobile loyalty program to stay competitive, especially when other food and beverage brands, including Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, are well-known for their extensive rewards platforms.

“Loyalty programs are also a great way to engage with consumers and recapture fledging sales,” Mr. Mehta said. “By having a program that extends across the digital and physical worlds, McDonald’s can reward people for visits, purchases and activities, such as engaging with the brand on social media or playing a game.

“The loyalty initiative should be facilitated through mobile: a Passbook card, instant points earned when mobile payment is completed, or other action like sharing an image is completed. The fact that the chain does not currently have a loyalty program is pretty astonishing, considering it is a big incentive for consumers,” he said.

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York