“We’ve deliberately not done that kind of promotion,” Ganelli says. “Because getting a lot of app downloads doesn’t help us drive business into the restaurants. What we want to do is provide a tool for people who already love Subway to make it easier for them to buy. Make it easier for them to order. So if that’s your approach, then you’re only going to attract your already most loyal customers. App users in general for every company are users. Not downloads. Users. They are already your most frequent loyal customers out of the gate.”
Food isn’t like other commodities, either. It’s a high-frequency item because, naturally, we all have to eat. Perhaps three times a day. And based on where you live or work and how far you’re willing to travel, there are a limited assortment of choices. It makes something like an app a valuable tool for not just loyalty, but to court and foster the ultimate target for today’s limited-service customers, especially if we’re talking about triggering frequency and specific daypart business—convenience.
And this is really where Subway put its hooks into development. Beyond some low-level advertising spent in the app store itself, Subway hasn’t really marketed the app. It did some POP displays for about a month in January. That was it.
“We really have not advertised it all intentionally because we needed to collect a baseline of data before we start doing some paid media advertising on other activities. So it’s really just kind of building on itself,” Ganelli says.
Subway likes to tout the statistic there are 4.9 billion combinations to make a sandwich. Ganelli saw that as an opportunity for the digital team. What Subway did that’s different than most chains is they worked the customization process backward, in a sense. Customers in the app start with a prebuilt sandwich as opposed to a blank slate—a process that doesn’t mimic the in-store buying experience. In this case, Subway curates a preconfigured option and users subtract, replace, and add on as they go. Ganelli says that behavior is typical of mobile customers.