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McDonald's and Pricing - and the Industry Changes to Follow

McDonald's recently announced it is setting a new benchmark in restaurant marketing with its smart pricing strategy, powered by digital advancements and a focus on personalized value.

Here's the lowdown:



little mcdonalds logo McDonald’s leverages its unmatched size to gain a competitive edge. At their recent Investor Day event, CEO Chris Kempczinski emphasized how McDonald's scale, particularly in technology, offers unique advantages. They're using this to sharpen their pricing tools, part of the broader "One McDonald’s Way" initiative aimed at digitizing and streamlining operations globally.

Jill McDonald, president of IOM, highlighted the shift towards more personalized value strategies. This is enabled by technology investments, notably the loyalty program. Launched in 2021, the program has already amassed 150 million active users in 90 days, with expectations to reach 250 million by 2027. This growing base provides a wealth of data on customer habits and preferences, allowing McDonald's to tailor its messaging and offers effectively.

Despite inflation pressures, McDonald's continues to evolve its pricing structure while maintaining its value leadership. According to Nation's Restaurant News, they’re now analyzing pricing opportunities at individual restaurant and menu item levels, using customer behavior and insights to inform decisions.

The use of proprietary pricing tools allows McDonald's to set prices at levels more acceptable to consumers, leading to higher sales and flow-through rates. This strategy also enjoys high adoption rates among franchisees.

A recent partnership with Google Cloud marks a significant step in applying generative AI solutions across McDonald’s global system. By 2024, new software will be deployed on digital platforms to speed up innovation. Machine learning will be used extensively to analyze loyalty customer data, improving the precision of personalized offers.

Early insights show that loyalty program members in the U.S. visit 15% more frequently and spend nearly twice as much as non-members. McDonald's anticipates that this trend will result in more targeted digital offers and a better ROI on discount strategies.

Alright, let's serve up a "hot take" on the potential ripple effects of McDonald's advanced pricing strategies across the QSR industry for 2024:


  1. Widespread Adoption of Data-Driven Pricing:

    McDonald's move will likely spur a trend across major QSR brands to adopt more nuanced, data-driven pricing strategies. In 2024, expect to see a surge in QSRs leveraging customer data to tailor prices. This means moving beyond one-size-fits-all pricing to more dynamic pricing models based on customer behavior, time of day, and even individual preferences. 

  2. Increased Personalization and Loyalty Program Focus:

    As McDonald's demonstrates the efficacy of personalized offers through loyalty programs, other QSRs will likely double down on their loyalty initiatives. These programs will become key tools for collecting consumer data, which will be used to create customized pricing and offers, enhancing customer loyalty and spend per visit.

  3. Technology Integration Becomes Crucial:

    The role of AI and machine learning in pricing will become a central focus. QSRs will invest more in technology partnerships, similar to McDonald's collaboration with Google, to harness advanced analytics for pricing decisions. This will lead to more sophisticated and responsive pricing models, capable of adapting in real-time to market changes and consumer behaviors.

  4. Consumer Expectations Shift:

    With this evolution, consumer expectations will also shift. Customers will become more accustomed to, and even expect, personalized pricing and offers. This could lead to greater consumer satisfaction but also raise concerns about data privacy and the fairness of variable pricing models. This will be interesting to watch, especially how it affects day parts.

  5. Competitive Pressure Intensifies:

    Smaller or less technologically advanced QSR brands might find it challenging to keep up with the giants like McDonald's. This could intensify the competition, pushing these smaller players either to innovate rapidly or risk losing market share.  We think companies like Ashwin's Kamlani's QSR revenue management solution, Juicer, will have a big 2024.

  6. Potential Regulatory Scrutiny:

    We think that as data-driven pricing becomes more prevalent, it will attract regulatory attention, especially concerning data privacy and pricing fairness. Pricing strategy is top of mind across other industries, too.  And as momentum continues, QSRs will need to navigate these concerns carefully, ensuring compliance while still leveraging the benefits of these new technologies. 

  7. Menu and Service Innovation:

    Finally, with more data at their fingertips, QSRs will use these insights not just for pricing but to innovate their menu and service offerings. This could lead to more customized menus, new LTOs, and different service styles, catering to the unique preferences of different customer segments.

Popcorn GTM believes McDonald's strategy is likely the catalyst for a major shift in how QSRs approach pricing and customer engagement, setting the stage for a more personalized, tech-driven dining experience in 2024. For consumers, this means more tailored experiences but also a need to be more mindful of how their data is used -- and a likelihood of sometimes paying more than other times. For the industry, it's a push towards innovation but with a side of potential challenges, especially for smaller players.

What do you think? Leave a comment.