The program uses a very basic magstriped gift card and, via a unique 16-digit identification number, takes the card through POS (point of sale) to CRM (customer relationship management).
Marina ORourke, Subways director of retail technology, said the system is groundbreaking because of the wide range of capabilities but also because of the scope of the deployment.
"We have rolled out the single largest integrated cash card program in the world. We have almost 20,000 stores on this program, and our program is integrated into our POS software," ORourke said. "Its a very sophisticated CRM program. It has the ability to target consumer behavior and reward and entice that behavior. It can look at cardholders in a geographic area. We can drill down to the store level. We want to understand if we can change behavior by offering, lets say, a free cookie."
The way the cookie promotion might work is the chain would identify all customers who make purchases once a month or less frequently, she said. The next time one of those customers showed up and made a purchase, their receipt would offer them a free cookie if they returned within a week.
Although ORourke wouldnt reveal specific discoveries the chain has made, she did say that the program is working in changing customer behavior. "During our pilot, the stores have been many, many more times more successful than traditional couponing. It is extremely compelling, Its a big number," she said.
Subway has been experimenting in other areas as well, including a Subway franchisee trial with issuing coupons via cell phones, which delivered a staggering 50 percent response rate.
The chain is also experimenting with online ordering in about 300 stores, with a group of stores in Florida trying to integrate delivery services.
The technologically challenging part of the online ordering project is the chains tendency to encourage creative use of local ingredients.
"Each one of our stores has some unique characteristics. In Maine, you might see a local lobster sub special, while in Texas it might be a special barbecue sub," ORourke said. The problem? "Its the logistics of keeping the menus up to date. Its the gathering and programming of all of that information and keeping it current so that customers will be able to order all of that online as well."
Subways IT challenges are somewhat different from a typical global retailer of its size because all of its stores are owned by franchisees. In many instances, IT can merely recommend, beg and plead for the stores to follow a particular technological approach. This cash card program, which started slowly in July 2003 and is just now being fully deployed to all locations, is mandatory for all Subway locations in North America. Without getting specific, ORourke said that corporate and the franchisees are sharing the costs of the deployment.
By requiring this rollout, not only does Subway management receive far more data to analyze, but it also took the opportunity to standardize a lot of the stores. "We now have a common software platform. Thats a big achievement," ORourke said, adding that the new requirements—such as supporting Windows 98 or later, with at least 256MB of RAM—were merely "highly recommended before."
"The most difficult part was that we had to address the lack of standardization at the store level in terms of hardware and software. We had to set a minimum requirement for hardware and software," she said, adding that some stores needed to purchase new hardware. "These are some fairly mild requirements, but there were still some folks who had some Windows 98 machines without enough RAM. We actually had some folks with Windows 95 machines who had to upgrade them."
The loyalty part of the program is not fully deployed yet, with only about 1,000 stores in roughly 14 states—mostly in upstate New York and the Pacific Northwest—using the loyalty piece.
When customers register on the Subway Web site, the program can match the individuals name with the cards number and can then e-mail specific promotions to specific customers. For most customers, though, they are literally just a number, but thats fine with Subway.
"We dont need to know who you are specifically to target you. We can target you by the unique identifier of the card," ORourke said. "We may or may not know that youre Joe Smith of 123 York St., Brooklyn, N.Y., but we know that there is a unique identifier and you are a consumer who does this behavior. If you register your card online, then we would know exactly who you are."