Retail in Asia


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW : McDonald’s Hong Kong CEO on the brand’s transformation

The American fast food chain, McDonald’s, has been in operation in Hong Kong for 47 years. The F&B retailer has now expanded to include 245 McDonald’s stores within the Hong Kong region. Since establishing a presence in Hong Kong, McDonald’s has successfully localised itself into one of the famous restaurants in the city through customer loyalty programmes and marketing campaigns. 

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In recent years, McDonald’s Hong Kong has been working hard on further improving customer experience. The company has shifted its in-store experience from a traditional face-to-face ordering to a digital-oriented approach with interactive screen kiosks, digital menu boards, split counters, etc. 

Retail in Asia had the pleasure to speak to McDonald’s Hong Kong CEO, Randy Lai. The discussion was joined by one of McDonald’s loyal customers, Mark, together, we talked about the brand’s 47-year-long transformation. Ms Lai also gave insight into the F&B retailer’s future plan and customer expectations from the brand.

RiA: As an American fast food chain, what approaches and strategies have been taken to transform McDonald’s for the Asian market?

Randy: McDonald’s has been part of Hong Kong’s social fabric for the past 47 years and since then we have established ourselves as a “Sunshine Brand” in Hong Kong – creating fond memories for generations of families from all walks of life. “Innovate for growth” has always been our key strategy. For instance, McDonald’s Hong Kong was the first restaurant chain to open for 24/7 in 2007 responding to the specific market needs of a fast-paced and lively city like Hong Kong. This move was not without challenge, but it eventually proved to be a sound decision. Besides, McDonald’s Hong Kong was also the first to provide local food items such as Twisty Pasta and Local Milk Tea, tailored to the taste and appetite of local customers. 

Source : McDonald’s

RiA: Do you get to join in on the product offering discussion for each market? For example, how does the team come to decide on specifically targeting Shogun burger with Egg (玉子將軍漢堡) for the Hong Kong market?

Randy: We are in a highly competitive market and we cannot be complacent. Innovation is the key to success, our team has an acute market sense that allows us to respond to the market quickly and offer customers pleasant surprises. Generally speaking, we launch a new product when it can fulfilll customer demand, align with our brand image, and is feasible. Needless to say, every product needs to undergo a stringent testing period to ensure that food quality and workflow can be maintained. 

RiA: McDonald’s is known for its creative and on-brand loyalty programmes. What are the important factors contributing to customer loyalty?

Randy: We grew up with Hong Kong people. The strong customer loyalty and brand recognition can be seen as a result of our 4C core values. First, we are Customer-obsessed, constantly bringing excitement and delightful surprises to our customers; Second, we are Caring, doing the right thing for customers and employees, in particular during challenging times such as the COVID-19 pandemic; Third, we are Committed to leading, strive to bring a new generation of customer experience and position ourselves as a game changer through menu innovation and digital transformation, etc.; last but not least, we are Creating shared value, through meaningful and long-term community participation. These are the driving force behind all the creative promotions and product offerings that our customers and fans expect from McDonald’s throughout the years. 

RiA: Many of the McDonald’s stores were renewed to a modern style from its classic old-school design. Is the company looking to revamp all stores in Hong Kong? Will McDonald’s conserve some of the classic design cues for specific stores as a collective memory of the public?

Randy: The Experience of the Future, or EotF in short as we call it, is a brand new service concept that further elevates our service through friendly and convenient facilities, gourmet burgers as well as a dedicated, professional Guest Experience Team. Since the opening of McDonald’s flagship store in Admiralty in 2015, we have been rolling out the EotF concept to our restaurant network across Hong Kong, as of today, 98 percent of McDonald’s in Hong Kong are EotF restaurants. 

EotF concept offers the next generation of restaurant experience to our customers through self-ordering kiosks, digital menu boards, split counters, power charging stations, self-service water stations and high-speed Wi-Fi, to name a few. It also helps to create a young and energetic brand image that connects with the next generation and aligns with our overall promotional and marketing strategy.

Source : McDonald’s

RiA: McDonald’s is known for its successful marketing campaigns, e.g. the beloved tongue twister discount scheme. What led to this decision in the first place and can we look forward to its return anytime soon? 

Randy: Throughout the past decades, McDonald’s grew up with Hong Kong people and we shared a lot of fond memories and happy moments with our customers through creative campaigns. By standing in the culture, we can tailor successful marketing campaigns. For instance, we collaborated with Hong Kong famous boy band MIRROR recently to launch exclusive experience and collectible items for our mobile App users, with an overwhelmingly positive response.In the future, we will continue to innovate in tasty food, quality services and creative strategies. 

RiA: As mentioned, McDonald’s has launched a series of successful marketing campaigns with the boy band MIRROR from last year. Started off with a full-band campaign, followed by an emphasis on three of the core members, can you tell us more about the ideation behind the roll-out schedule? Can we expect another wave of surprises from the campaign?

Randy: We see our collaboration with MIRROR not only a match with the company’s brand image, but also a customer engagement campaign that brings everyone happiness. By collaborating with MIRROR members, we intend to create a cultural moment for the young generation, something they could participate in, play with and pass on to others. We also offer customers with exclusive experience such as the MIRROR Be 3 Party and limited edition collectible items. 

Riding on the highly successful campaign last year, we recently launched another collaboration with the three MIRROR members. For three consecutive weeks, we featured limited edition stickers and promotional videos for fans of MIRROR. As always, we will keep on challenging ourselves to innovate for growth.

RiA: Can you give us a sneak peek on the next big campaign for McDonald’s Hong Kong?

Randy: Last year was a year of digital transformation for McDonald’s Hong Kong. In the coming years, we will further develop a stronger bonding with our customers by enriching our digital offerings, exploring partnership opportunities, and developing member privileges to create personalised experiences for McDonald’s App users, which currently account for 3.3 million of our overall customer population. 

This year, we have also made considerable achievements such as the expansion of our green menu items and changing plastic salad boxes to paper ones. In the summer, we will make another great leap forward on sustainability, stay tuned!

Source : McDonald’s

During the opening of the new store in Harbour City, a premier shopping centre in Hong Kong. Randy met Mark, a loyal fan of McDonald’s. Mark told Randy that he had kept the wrapping paper from his first visit to the inital Hong Kong McDonald’s store. As a loyal customer, Mark told us about his feelings towards McDonald’s and what he is expecting from the brand.

RiA: What is so special for McDonald’s that makes you become a big fan of the F&B brand but not the others?

Mark: I first became a fan of McDonald’s when I visited the Chicago (USA) restaurant branch. It was always special to go to the golden arches where we could eat our burger and fries in the car! When my family moved to Hong Kong in the early 1970s, it was a 5-year wait for the first McDonald’s. But once McDonald’s arrived, I was the first customer at each of the first 4 restaurant openings. McDonald’s has always been known for quality food and a consistent taste and customer experience. Nearly 50 years later, their core values remain the same and I still enjoy a burger fresh off the grill in Hong Kong.

Source : McDonald’s

RiA: As a customer, you may see some differences between McDonald’s in Hong Kong and their branches in other countries. What makes McDonald’s here different from others from the perspective of a fan?

Mark: I have visited many McDonald’s branches internationally but the Hong Kong branch is my favourite place to eat – for a few reasons. First of all, it’s unique product taste. In Hong Kong, McDonald’s has maintained a consistent flavour in its burgers and fries over the years. Secondly, Hong Kong is one of the most successful McDonald’s operations in the world and the vast number of restaurants (250) places them ahead of almost every other F&B brand. With such a vast number of choices, it seems there is always McDonald’s/McCafé nearby, making it convenient to find a great meal. Finally, another difference I value in the Hong Kong branch compared to others I have visited is the employees (over 15,000) who are always cheerful and willing to help you with seating and clearing up.  

RiA: Are you a fan of McDonald’s all over the world? Except for the wrapping paper from the first Hong Kong McDonald’s store, do you still have collections from other McDonald’s? Can you share them with us? Which one is your favourite among all of them?

Mark: Over the years I have travelled quite extensively and have probably visited McDonald’s in almost every place. To name a few, there are memories of McDonald’s in Seoul (Itaewon), Beijing, Shanghai (Minhang), Bangkok (Erawan), Kuala Lumpur (Sentral Station), Singapore, Jakarta (Airport), Mumbai (halfway to Pune), New Delhi, Hong Kong, Macao, and of course, the US. Although I haven’t collected many toys in my adult life, I still cherish many Happy Meal items (Toy cars, stuffed animals, sports cards, etc.) from the times when I was younger.

RiA: McDonald’s has launched different campaigns over the past few years. Which is the most impressive one to you?

Mark: For a long time, the Double Cheeseburger promotion (Value Item or Extra Value Meal) was my favourite. This is because Cheeseburgers are my preference and the size is just about right. I also recall the McRib promotion which was very good. Of course, there are other items that I enjoy regularly including the Angus burgers (Classic and Specialty), the McChicken, and Hong Kong’s favourite Filet-o-Fish.

Source : McDonald’s

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RiA: As a big fan who has been fond of McDonald’s for 47 years, do you have any expectations or suggestions for McDonald’s?

Mark: As a Business Consultant, I work with companies to help them understand how changing consumer behaviour is driving the future. In the trend toward digitalization, McDonalds in Hong Kong has adapted quickly and offers an omni-channel experience catering to customers who prefer digital or others like me who still enjoy face-to-face interaction.  

Going forward, consumers will look for retailers that value community involvement, sustainability in product sourcing, and a small carbon footprint in packaging/delivery. McDonald’s is doing well in these areas and I would expect to see them continue and do more!