I am old enough to have observed my children’s tastes swing markedly over the years from McDonald's to Subway. While Maccas seems stuck in a no-man's-land between cringing promotion of its healthier-than-healthy options while still trying to satisfy the basic urges of the chip-and-burger brigade, Subway has successfully ridden the public wave of better eating.
Subway’s offering is straightforward and uncomplicated. While none of its franchisees or their staff has attended a Subway equivalent of
But one change has been the demise of Subway’s loyalty program, Sub Club. It was long lasting, fairly simple to execute and rated about a three out of five stars for customers. In classic green stamps fashion, you were handed a number of coupons or stamps based on what you’d bought, affixed them to your Sub Club card, then redeemed when you’d filled up the card. Fairly simple mechanism.
Where Subway lost points was that it wasn't quite simple enough. While the stamp-earning formula was fairly straightforward (one stamp for a "six-inch", two for a "foot-long"), it was more confusing how the “burn” end worked out. I always had to remind myself from the fine print on the card what I really would get out of it. And it was - collect 8 stamps (one full card), then if I buy "one medium fountain beverage", I’d get a free six-inch sub for nothing. Alternatively, I could collect 16 stamps and get a free foot-long sub if I purchased a fountain drink.
With loyalty programs it matters less if I don’t perfectly understand the "earn" rate, but if the “business end” is hard to understand – the “what’s-in-it-for-me” bit, then that’s more of a problem. Also, if it has too many hurdles – in this case the mandatory drink purchase - then it can start to lose gloss.
Nevertheless, with Subway’s Sub Club, I soldiered on. With all my family members happy to frequent Subway, we racked up he stamps rather quickly, and I got used to the way the deal worked. I was even handed stamps at a Subway in
But Subway wasn't enjoying the deal as much as I was, and last year announced the end of the party. No more Sub Club.
Now, loyalty programs are hard to start up, but they’re a darn sight harder to stop. It’s a bit like the boss handing out the turkey at Christmas – whatever goodwill he or she gained in year 1 is more than wiped out when he or she forgets or decides against it in year “n”.
Subway didn’t fare too badly. It gave customers plenty of notice about when the stamps would no longer be handed out; it gave them plenty of time to cash in their chips and then when it was all over it actually handed out cash discounts for any cards not filled up – a 100% redemption rate play at the end of the promotion. Hard to fault that. The only thing that irked was their mixed messages about why they were pulling up stumps. The notice in-store stated that the Club meant that only some customers, not others, were getting the goodies, so it was somehow inequitable. Purlease! Try extending that principle elsewhere in society! The reason more widely promoted, even by Subway, was that the opportunities for fraud, no doubt coupled with general moral decay was pushing up the share of chancers and sheisters getting unscheduled access to treats. When Sub Club stamps became widely available on eBay, Subway's owners were not overly impressed. Even worse was the talk of staff theft of the stamps, evidenced by entire rolls of stamps appearing online! So maybe the demise was inevitable.
The bit of data I don’t have regards the residual impact of stopping the loyalty program. Of course there’s no public data available on that. And it would be hard for the Subway bean counters to work that out as well. Because ultimately loyalty programs only offer the cream on top. The world’s most effective loyalty program is only going to add a marginal benefit to the bottom line. Could be worth millions if you’re big enough, but not so easy to read off a 3-D column chart or a low-angled, tilted, chunk-out pie chart!
In some countries, a new Subway loyalty card has sprung up. But for us in the rest of the Subway world, we're missing our stamps. Would Subway be regretting its move? What do you think?