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How Chick-Fil-A Snagged The Top Spot On The App Store

The QSR chain saw success linking app downloads to free food — but how will it hold up after the promotion ends?

Within a week of its launch, quick-serve restaurant Chick-Fil-A’s climbed to the top spot on the app store.

It’s hardly news that a popular QSR chain — Chick-Fil-A has over 1,500 physical locations — would want to broaden its digital efforts to reach on-the-go consumers. But there’s no way around it: Chick-Fil-A is a little late to the app party. Taco Bell launched its app to significant success in 2014, and Starbucks launched its pioneering app back in 2011.

At press time, the app had dropped to the tenth spot, but a lingering presence in the top 10 is still promising — as are the out-the-door lines at the chain’s NYC locations. So, why is Chick-Fil-A at the top of the food chain now?

Online-To-Offline Love

The first point is simple: The chain has effectively tied online app downloads to offline rewards — in this case, a free chicken sandwich.

From now until June 11, participating restaurants will offer customers their choice of chicken sandwich through the Chick-Fil-A app. Redemption takes place either through scanning the membership QR code during an in-store order or through selecting a local Chick-Fil-A while placing a mobile order. In this case, the in-app order is free, and the customer proceeds to their closest location to pick it up.

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All customers like easily accessible freebies. But Chick-Fil-A’s mobile ordering — praised as “seamless” by multiple early reviewers in the app store — works to make users’ lives easier by offering a digital means to skip in-store lines.

“What most businesses don’t understand is that consumers’ home screens are jam packed with apps and they are only willing to download and keep apps that provide them with utility and value,” said Eli Portnoy, CEO of Sense360, which specializes in app engagement. “Most retailers’ app strategy is to wrap a brochure in an app format, but that clearly doesn’t work because what consumer is going to want to further clutter their phone with something useless and valueless? Chick-Fil-A built an entire mobile experience that enhances the offline experience by allowing quick ordering and faster service. That is utility and for fans of Chick-Fil-A that is worthy of a spot on their phone.”

A Chick-Fil-A fan echoed this statement in plain language in an app store review. “Compared to the other fast food apps this one [is] worlds apart,” the user wrote. “BK app basically has the same coupons and shows the menu… big whoop. [But] the Chick-Fil-A app greets you in a very welcoming manner. The best thing about it is that once you place your order via the app, you can just pick up your order when you arrive at the restaurant! Lines are a thing of the past with the app. Totally worth it.”

Chicken Sandwich And Chill?

Once the free sandwich promotion ends next week, the app will face its first true test in regards to staying power. This is when the user experience — especially features like the aforementioned mobile ordering — will have to truly carry the day.

But as The Atlantic pointed out, Chick-Fil-A appears to have engendered a type of brand loyalty that goes beyond its prudent online-to-offline strategy.

“The cult of Chick-fil-A is difficult to overstate. Days before a new store opens, the faithful line up for a chance to become one of ‘The First 100,’ an honorific that comes with the bounty of free Chick-fil-A for a year,” Adam Chandler wrote. “Also, the company, which generally keeps franchisees from owning multiple stores, topped the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index in its first year as an entrant with the highest score ever registered by a quick-service restaurant.”

Not everyone is sold on the app. But if Chick-Fil-A continues to appropriately manage its physical locations so that consumers can easily find them — and place orders at them — through the app, its future is looking bright.

In any case, plenty of fans appear willing to profess their loyalty already. As one passionate user wrote in a review, “[any reviewers that] are nitpicking — they need to go have a chicken sandwich and chill.”