As Subway Shrinks Location Footprint, Can Facebook Bot Messager Drive Loyalty?

The sandwich chain's Facebook launch represents 'the largest deployment of a Messenger bot in the restaurant industry,' says Subway digital head Carman Wenkoff.

Subway put in an appearance at Facebook’s F8 Developer Conference to tout how the social network’s focus on connecting its Messenger app to e-commerce can boost offline foot traffic and loyalty.

But the real test comes as the sandwich shop tries to drive higher sales and loyalty a year after it closed more stores than it opened — a first in its 50-year history, CNN Money reported.

The Milford, Conn.-based chain now runs roughly 26,744 stores in the U.S., which is 359 locations less than it had in 2016. Still, there are 40,000 Subway outlets worldwide, which put its ahead of McDonald’s 36,000 global franchises.

Big Bet On Bots

Although Subway may beat McDonald’s when it comes to physical locations, the burger chain has been moving aggressively lately in when it comes to mobile ordering as a way to drive visits.

In releasing its bot for Facebook Messenger, Subways hopes to augment its existing desktop and branded app ordering. The Facebook Messenger bot connection is being rolled out at all its 26,000 U.S. locations.

That makes this “the largest deployment of a Messenger bot in the restaurant industry,”said Carman Wenkoff, Subway’s Chief Information, and Digital Officer, in a statement. “We’re proud to offer our guests an innovative new way to order and pay outside the restaurants. This is a new initiative in the on-going quest to enhance the guest experience.”

Subway’s bot for Facebook Messenger is meant to augment its existing desktop and mobile app ordering features.

The bot ordering capability was developed with Agilitee, one of Subway’s digital partners. Customers can use the bot to order a sandwich, drinks, salad, and other menu items, which can be customized according to specific kinds of bread and toppings.

Users can complete the order with either Facebook’s payment system or Masterpass, the digital payment service from Mastercard, with the promise that “the order will be ready for pick up in 15 minutes or less,” Subways said.

Subway’s Digital Dive

The creation of the FB Messenger bot is one of a string of other interactive programs by Subway Digital, the unit the chain created in 2016 to focus on omnichannel strategies. The digital unit currently plans to hire more than 150 people this year.

The new digital efforts comes as all brick-and-mortar brands from retail to QSRs look to capture younger customers who are spending more time with messaging apps like Snapchat.

As GeoMarketing’s Lauryn Chamberlain reported last week, a majority of Gen-Z teens (52 percent) say they spend three or more hours per day on messaging apps.

In a larger sense, consumers across the board are quickly adopting chatbots as a way to get direct information. But it’s the mobile natives of Gen-Z who are charting the way brands interact with customers, particularly in terms of driving discovery and, possibly, loyalty.

To catch potential customers at the right moment, Wendy’s Brandon Rhoten recently highlighted Snapchat Geofilters as a particularly important discovery tool, as QSRs typically have had a tough time capitalizing on mobile search.

“Location-based search lets me push you to a specific product and a specific restaurant,” Rhoten told GeoMarketing.

Being able to get just as personal — while promising the on-demand convenience that practically all consumers expect —  is what Subway hopes to achieve with its big push on FB Messenger.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.