Though Chipotle rolled out its points-based loyalty system nationwide yesterday, the upgrade itself has been a long time coming. The fast casual chain first began testing the program in Columbus, Kansas City and Phoenix last fall, and has been developing the idea of a digital-centric loyalty program for the last few years.
According to CTO Curt Garner, a loyalty offering has been the most highly and consistently requested item from customers for some time. As far back as 2016, the company ran a summer promotion that he described as a sort of “proto-loyalty” program designed to reward their most frequent customers.
In many regards, they’ve known what they wanted to build for their customers, refined by data from the pilots and consumer feedback. The goal has been a digitally-centered program that lets consumers earn rewards for purchases and other types of activities, while bringing them more deeply into Chipotle’s brand and mission.
The rewards program rolled out yesterday reflects those goals, Garner noted. Customers can enroll via the website or app, receiving 10 points for each dollar spent. For every 1,250 points spent, customers can earn a free entree, and they also earn free chips and guacamole just for signing up.
Chipotle is also teaming up with digital wallet company Venmo for launch week, which is depositing surprise amounts of $1 to $500 in fan's accounts through March 15. Venmo was a natural partner for this launch, Garner said, because there is a lot of overlap between the two firms’ user bases: Chipotle is the fourth most-mentioned brand on Venmo.
Apart from being a fun way to promote the loyalty program, Garner noted, the pair-up represents the bigger digital vision of the loyalty launch. In much the same way as Chipotle attempts to build physically in the places where people are, Venmo seeks to build digital presences, and is “a cool, immersive and under-tapped social media platform.”
Chipotle’s bigger digital buildout on social media, through its app and now its loyalty offering, Garner said, has been a comprehensive project for the last few years on the backend, even if the fruits have only more recently started becoming more apparent on the front end.
“We took the position in the early days that we wouldn’t rush to put things in place that wouldn’t support a great experience for our customers,” he told PYMNTS.
That meant long before putting a points-based rewards system in place, Chipotle was building a far less flashy system to better organize digital orders. Less flashy but effective, as wait times fell from 40 minutes to 12 minutes with the software improvement. They then layered in the app experience so it was easier to order remotely, and integrated with delivery services so drivers’ orders would flow directly to the kitchen. Some of the innovations weren’t even technical, but were structural, like installing shelves in the ordering area so it was easier for both delivery drivers and customers to pick up their orders.
“The north star for us remains the customer, and our mission is to remove unnecessary friction from the experience,” Garner said. “We didn’t invite everyone into a rewards program before doing all the other investments, so it felt like putting rewards in place was the next natural extension. I don’t think we could have delivered nearly the experience we are now in the digital channel if we hadn’t.”
The goal going forward, he noted, is to continue using their digital platform to hit more of those “next natural extensions.” That means expanding their ability to better personalize services through digitalization.
“We realize when we look at the data, people are eating Chipotle in lots more ways than when we started 25 years ago,” Garner said. “And when we think about building affinity and love for the brand, we think about stretching it to new people who maybe haven’t ever been in, or who only come in once or twice a year. There are a lot of ways we can continue to turn this up and build an even better experience.”