McDonald's begins rollout of mobile app in US; drink loyalty program featured

McDonald's has started rolling out its new mobile app in the U.S., and one of the main features is a loyalty program for the chain's drinks.

The app, which was made available recently for people in the San Diego area, lets people earn a free beverage after five purchases of McCafe drinks like coffees and shakes. The company said it plans to make the mobile app available nationally by October, after tinkering with variations in tests.

McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook, who is trying to revive the chain's slumping sales, has conceded that the company has been a "little behind some others" with its app. As fast-food chains try to court younger customers, mobile apps have increasingly been seen as a way to offer convenience and build customer loyalty.

Starbucks Corp., for instance, has underscored the importance of its mobile app in boosting business. Last month, the coffee chain said that about 20 percent of purchases in the U.S. are now made through its app. And later this year, it plans to let customers in the U.S. use its app to place orders before getting to the store.

The McDonald's app made available in San Diego this week is still fairly limited. It has a store locator and lets people scroll through the chain's menu and see the nutritional information for various items. A Quarter Pounder with Cheese, for instance, has 520 calories, while a Cheeseburger has 290 calories. Customers can't order or pay for food through the app.

Becca Hary, a McDonald's Corp. spokeswoman, said franchisees will also be able to promote the local deals in their respective regions through the new app. In the San Diego area, McDonald's said initial offers include a buy one, get one free coupon for Big Macs.

Hary said the company will continue refining the app and that promotional offers will become more tailored over time. She said the app is launching in New York City this week as well.

The McCafe loyalty program is set to expire at year-end and the company will determine then whether to continue it, she said.