Industry News | October 4, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

Study: Starbucks is the King of Customer Loyalty

There's no doubt about it: customers love Starbucks Starbucks
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How do you measure brand loyalty these days? Is it through rewards? Mobile users? Traffic? For restaurant brands, the reality is that question has never been more convoluted. Many companies have simply cut bait and decided brand loyalty is dead. But studies have shown the opposite to be true, even among the much-maligned millennial generation. A Facebook IQ survey last year showed that millennials are just as likely to be brand loyalists as Baby Boomers—the demographic most often categorized as creatures of habit.

A study of 14,700 U.S. consumers reported that millennials were twice as likely as Boomers to cite a lack of healthy options as a barrier for loyalty, and that taste is the No. 1 reason given for why a consumer sticks to a certain brand. Technology was also key. Overall, the sentiment is simple: consumers of all generations do care about the logo on the front of the building

Foursquare recently released its Quick-Service Restaurant Loyalty Index. The company ranked the top 50 chains in the U.S., according to customer loyalty. The location intelligence platform got there by measuring foot traffic in four metrics: visit frequency (the average number of visits per diner within a year); market penetration (the percentage of all quick-serve diners who visited the chain with a year, measured for regions in which the chain exists; share of wallet (the percentage of a customer’s total quick-service visits that a particular chain captures within a year); and fanaticism threshold (the number of visits within a year required for a customer to be within the top 1 percent of customers who visit a particular chain, on a scale of 1 to 50).

Foursquare analyzed the foot traffic trails of more than 2.5 million Americans for the study. Given the company’s ability to see where people go, loyalty was measured on customer actions rather than perceptions of a brand. Basically, this data is real life, not theoretical. It’s information measured and analyzed by actual actions.

For this analysis, Foursquare’s data scientists examined the foot traffic of a panel of users who have been active on the Foursquare City Guide or Foursquare Swarm apps for at least the past year, have opted-in to provide background location awareness, and have visited at least one of the analyzed chains within the research time frame (July 2016–June 2017). Data was anonymized, aggregated, and normalized against U.S. census data to remove any age, gender or geographical bias.

Here are the top 50 chains, ranked.

1. Starbucks

2. McDonald’s

3. Dunkin’ Donuts

4. Tim Hortons

5. Chick-fil-A

6. Whataburger

7. Sonic Drive-In

8. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

9. Taco Bell

10. Panera Bread

11. Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits

12. Chipotle Mexican Grill

13 Subway

14. In-N-Out Burger

15. Bruegger’s

16. Jack in the Box

17. Wendy’s

18. Burger King

19 Del Taco

20. Culver’s

21. Dairy Queen

22. Zaxby’s

23. Taco John’s

24. Smoothie King

25. Einstein Bros.

26. Carl's Jr.

27. White Castle

28. Arby's

29. Jimmy John's

30. Qdoba Mexican Grill

31. Church's Chicken

32. Jamba Juice

33. Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

34. Steak 'n Shake

35. Raising Cane's

36. Moe's Southwest Grill

37. El Pollo Loco

38. Jersey Mike's Subs

39. KFC

40. Checkers

41. PatExpress

42. Jason's Deli

43. Schlotzsky's

44. Five Guys

45. Firehouse Subs

46. Noodles & Company

47. Wingstop

48. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

49. Long John Silver's

50. Boston Market

Past the rankings, what were some of the key findings? Foursquare found that size doesn’t guarantee success. For instance, regional brands Whataburger and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf cracked the top 10. It also found that breakfast brands have higher loyalty, which fits into past data about why it pays to become a part of a customer’s daily routine.

Here’s an article talking about why breakfast is crucial for winning frequent customers.

This lifted chains like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Horton’s, Panera Bread, and Taco Bell. Breakfast increases frequency and share of wallet, Foursquare found.

Foursquare’s study also identified Taco Bell as “The Mover.” The YUM! Brands chain climbed two places in the past year, perhaps thanks to very Taco Bell-like menu innovations (Chicken Chalupa, etc.), and some offbeat marketing tactics. Foursquare points to the Lyft partnership, which targeted late-night pickups, and the reservations-only speakeasy opening in New York City in 2016, as culprits. Taco Bell was the only chain in the top 10 to move more than one rank in a year.

“The Fanatics’ Favorite” was Bruegger’s. The bagel chain chimed in at No. 15 overall, an impressive mark for a brand ranking only 46th in market penetration. The brand sat third in fanaticism and eighth in share of wallet. Foursquare credits a strong loyalty program and New York style bagels.

“The Underdog” was Steak ’N Shake. The chain was dropping in fanaticism, penetration, and frequency. Foursquare noted a series of failed health inspection as why it fell 10 places in the Loyalty Index.

Foursquare also gave some tips on how to win hearts and stomachs. Such as using location intelligence to measure incremental visit lift, visit frequency delta, and competitor defection. Check out the full study for more strategy suggestions here.