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Mobile location data showcases Chipotle?s visitation trajectory post-E.coli outbreak

After experiencing a precipitous decline in foot traffic following an E.coli outbreak, Chipotle Mexican Grill successfully managed to drive a jump in visits by rolling out a mobile coupon for a complimentary burrito, as evidenced by an independent analysis of its customers' mobile location data. 

Location intelligence service PlaceIQ monitored smartphone-enabled location data from Chipotle, finding that visits to the quick service restaurant chain dropped by nearly 70 percent following the first E.coli outbreak in October 2015. However, the brand?s decision to roll out a mobile coupon for a free burrito resulted in a significant increase, proving how location data can help marketers pinpoint best practices to drive in-store traffic and keep customer engagement high.

?Location data gives you a unique way of unlocking the consumer journey in a completely new paradigm, which is revolutionary for QSR,? said Duncan McCall, CEO and co-founder of PlaceIQ. ?The really powerful thing here is that location is not just a simple add-on to targeting, it?s a fundamental horizontal data set that can be connected across your entire ecosystem.?

Uncovering new trends
PlaceIQ was able to glean important information regarding the state of Chipotle?s in-store traffic following the E.coli outbreak by tapping into consumers? smartphones. Per Mr. McCall, location data offers a deterministic understanding of individuals who walk into a particular store, thanks to a wide array of mobile apps and SDKs that anonymously provide this information.

Chipotle?s overall visitation decreased by approximately 70 percent from the time that the initial E.coli outbreak occurred ? in October 2015 ? to the chain?s lowest point in visitation, in January 2016.

Since then, visitation has climbed by approximately 8 percent each week from that lowest point, although one sales initiative led by Chipotle caused this number to jump even higher.

After closing most of its restaurants one morning for a company-wide damage control meeting regarding the outbreak, Chipotle enabled customers to receive coupons via text message for free burritos. These coupons had a designated redemption period, during which consumers were encouraged to come in-store to claim their free burrito.

This tactic helped visitation jump by 10 percent, underscoring location data?s valuable role in measuring the effectiveness of last-ditch marketing strategies, especially when a crisis hits.

Ultimately, while visitation to Chipotle has fallen by one-third since the first outbreak, the QSR is seeing positive signs of recovery, likely due in part to its dedication to being a mobile leader in its sector.

Last month, for instance, Chipotle fused gaming and coupons together in a push to get fans hooked on its guacamole that leveraged social media to encourage participation in a photo hunt challenge to win free food (see story).

Major marketing opportunities
Leveraging location data offers massive opportunities for brands to better optimize their audience outreach, shore up loyalty and increase foot traffic within bricks-and-mortar stores.

If a company wants to test out a new product or service, tapping into location data can help determine which market would be the best fit for that pilot. Consumers in Boston may have different shopping behaviors than those in Austin, a notion that brands should take into consideration.

Quick service restaurant chains have one of the highest incentives to use mobile-enabled data, as there is a strong correlation between someone walking into a physical location and becoming a customer.

Several of PlaceIQ?s more sophisticated customers are using location data to message consumers in moments of impulse, highlighting a massive opportunity to drive last-minute sales. This can be accomplished by sending discounts or freebies to customers through a mobile app or geofenced text message.

?The biggest challenge is deciding which of your channels could benefit the most from physical context,? said Nadya Kohl, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of data partnerships at PlaceIQ.

There is tremendous ROI associated with this technology, as proven by the acceleration of companies moving from test-and-learn phases into more sophisticated adoption, which brings greater insights into consumers? daily habits and shopping or dining behavior.

?We are rapidly accelerating into the second phase of this revolution, whereby location becomes an inherent play across the organization,? Mr. McCall said.