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My Summer at the Golden Arches

By Nicole Monarrez

September 7, 2021

“Welcome to McDonalds, are you using the mobile app today?” Yes—the answer should always be yes.

Screenshots of the McDonalds mobile App

My capstone project as a graduate intern on the US Consumer Insights team at McDonald’s focused on the mobile app, specifically on a payment feature (the QR code or 4 digit code that is linked to a saved credit card on file) used as part of the Loyalty program. The QR code as a form of payment has become popular with brands in the QSR space in the past few years, but the 4 digit code is unique to McDonald’s in that it allows consumers to redeem deals, earn points, and pay all at once as soon as they start ordering at the drive-thru speakerbox. As a result, they are moved through the drive-thru process drastically faster than a non-user and are able to skip the payment window entirely, or briefly stop for just a receipt. My task was to conduct research to provide recommendations on how to further drive adoption of this new payment feature.

A photo of a McDonald's Drive Thru

First, I took dedicated time to educate myself on the product and to also take myself through the consumer journey. I downloaded the mobile app, joined the Loyalty program, and made various visits to multiple stores to use the 4-digit code/QR code at the drive-thru. I also took a look at other QSR brands with any type of similar product. My findings showed that Starbucks and Subway were most similar in offering a QR code that is linked directly to a credit card. So, I joined their programs and made trips to different stores to experience the feature. These experiences helped me understand the consumer journey, from the fun parts to the points of confusion to the moments of joy when I was handed my food. Most of all, it helped guide my research design.

Throughout the summer, I proactively met with internal stakeholders to learn the layers of McDonald’s when it came to the app and this payment feature in order to give myself a more a holistic view. I hunted down anyone who could help give me perspective and information on the technology behind the app, the loyalty program, operations, how this app and feature were affecting our crews in kitchens, and how they were using the feature with consumers at the drive-thru. This was also an important influence on the research design and in ensuring that I was asking the right questions.

Lastly, I worked with brilliant vendors to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research. The results helped us see where McDonald’s in particular had opportunities for improvement with consumers.

Some of my biggest learnings or reminders this summer were:

  1. As someone in insights, my place of power is with the consumer. In my role, I’m the team member closest to the consumer. Trust that and represent that well.
  2. Get uncomfortable. Growing takes discomfort.
  3. Play the new-person card. Ask all the questions.
  4. Storytelling has power. I get to start shaping that story from the second I start designing research.

No matter the task, I always felt that I had the resources and guidance from my manager to succeed. I was challenged and encouraged to get uncomfortable in ways that stretched me. My projects were impactful and exciting. I couldn’t have asked for a better team or summer!

The author, Nicole, poses at McDonald's Hamburger University, smiling about her successful summer internship