If you’re looking to get a tasty sandwich and also earn some rewards while you’re at it, you’re in luck! Jimmy John’s and their Freaky Fast rewards program have been around for a while, and they just recently announced some new changes with hopes of increasing engagement and drawing some viral attention at the same time.

Are the new changes worth eating your heart out, or are they too freaky and require some sugarcoating to be palatable?

What’s good to eat about Freaky Fast Rewards

In the food and beverage industry, and especially in the restaurant business, loyalty programs are only useful if they are straightforward to find and understand. Nobody has time to figure out complicated loyalty systems when you’re standing at the register or need to order a bite to eat quickly. Let’s see if Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards makes using their program freaky fast and easy.

Rewards right off the bat

Gif from an email, showing an image of a sandwhich from Jimmy John's, reminding users they can earn a free sandwich with the Freaky Fast Rewards program

Like any loyalty program, getting program members to realize value as soon as possible is the best way to increase program adoption and is an early indicator of positive retention later on. Jimmy John’s seems to understand this need completely — new members get a free sandwich just for placing their first order after joining.

Earning rewards that quickly helps in two important ways. First, it motivates members to keep earning points — aka placing more orders — to keep the reward (meal)train going, driving revenue for Jimmy John’s along the way. Second, it simultaneously wires customers' brains (and taste buds) to associate the brand with the positive feelings they get from getting something delicious for free.

Those positive emotional connections drive the 200,000+ images tagged on Instagram with #JimmyJohns, and motivate viral adoption of their loyalty program. Who doesn’t want a free sandwich?

Introducing more ways to earn

With a base program running steadily, Jimmy John’s wanted to introduce new ways for members to get excited about the program with the changes they made in Jan 2023. The new feature, achievement badges, presents members with challenges they can complete to earn unique rewards.

Image from an email about Jimmy John's Freaky Fast Rewards, depicting a wrestler with a championship belt. Text reads: New Badge Alert! The Gauntlet

The first badge rolled out was dubbed “The Gauntlet” and can be earned when a member orders all 25 core menu sandwiches. The reward? A beanbag chair.

On the one hand, that seems like a weird reward for having to eat 25 sandwiches, but maybe they’ve done some customer research we don’t know about. Maybe there’s a secret hoard of Jimmy John’s enthusiasts who desperately need one of the most popular items of furniture in the 1970s?

In any case, Freaky Fast rewards made this first badge a monster of a challenge to try and achieve, but — hopefully — the people love what the people love.

In-app only to drive trackable engagement

From a business and customer engagement side of things, Jimmy John’s has made Freaky Fast Rewards and the new challenges as much of an “owned” customer experience as possible.

Rather than letting members engage on the website (where they can place a regular, non-loyalty program order), users have to install the Jimmy John’s mobile app to see the challenges.

Screenshot of the Apple App Store, showing the Jimmy John's — In-App Ordering app

Having members engage with Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast Rewards badges only within the app is helpful on two different fronts for the brand. First, it helps them avoid customers being distracted. Rather than relying on a web browser with multiple tabs open, a mobile app takes up members' full attention, albeit momentarily.

Additionally, features like push notifications can help them draw users back into the app in a less “intrusive” method than SMS or email. The more they can get users into the app and engage with the rewards program, in theory, the more top-of-mind Jimmy John’s will be when they’re thinking about their next meal.

What’s gone stale for Jimmy John’s loyalty

Unfortunately, Freaky Fast Rewards isn’t blemish free. There are lots with this program that leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths.

Limiting to the app limits engagement

Requiring users to install an app to engage with the badge part of the program might be great for business goals, but from a user perspective, it’s less than ideal.

Screenshot from Pew Research showing that 15% of percentage of US Americans do not have access to a Smart Phone

It’s true that most people have cell phones, but did you know that 15% of American adults don’t have a smartphone? That means that limiting engagement to only a mobile app prevents nearly 40 million people from being able to participate in Jimmy John’s rewards program.

At the same time, pushing all users to the mobile app prevents them from experiencing the benefits of omnichannel commerce. If loyalty members could order in-store and view their progress in the app (or vice versa), it would increase program engagement since it would become much easier to use.

Exclusivity is… exclusive

The concept behind the new achievement badges and challenges seems great, but the execution, especially of The Gauntlet as the first challenge, neglects to consider a few key details.

Image of Jimmy John's Originals sandwiches

For example, what if a member has an allergy, intolerance, or even a strong dislike to one of the ingredients in just one of the Jimmy John’s Original sandwiches? Does that mean they can never complete the Gauntlet?

We might be being a bit picky, but hey, some of their customers might be as well. You would think that Jimmy John’s would be doing everything it can to get more customers coming back for repeat orders with the new challenges. With the format of the current challenges, it seems like it will only benefit customers who already order lots of, and lots of different, sandwiches.

Launching with limited badges is hard to get excited about

Starting with the Gauntlet was a great way to get press coverage.  After the initial buzz, though, having “buy 25 different sandwiches” as the first real challenge and having a time limit on the challenge to be completed by March 15th, 2023, is hard for existing members to get on board with. With The Gauntlet being announced mid-January, that means customers have to order an average of 2 to 3 new sandwiches a week.

Image of giant Jimmy John's potato chip bag shapped bean bag chairs, which are prizes for the Freaky Fast Rewards program

At roughly $10 a sandwich, members have to spend around $250 to get the reward, which for the “Gauntlet” might be biting off more than they can chew. Without knowing the exact cost of the beanbag chair, the spend-to-reward ratio is likely in line with the 3-10% back for every dollar spent that we recommend.

There are also badges for placing your first order and getting the free sandwich (a perk that has always existed) and one for spending $75 at once. But with the $75 “Super Host” challenge only lasting until late February, they are making it hard for members to get out of bed about these badges.

Regular, non-badge mystery rewards are demotivating

All the new updates aside, there are some serious issues with the standard Freaky Fast rewards program.

GIF from the Jimmy John's website prompting users to log into the app to track Freaky Fast Rewards progress. Depicts a gauge moving towards a thumbs up

The frustrations are primarily due to everything being a “mystery” reward, so members never really know what they are trying to achieve. That definitely goes against loyalty best practices. We get that the mystery is supposed to be exciting, but when some rewards are a free sandwich, and some are just a pickle, that is not a good customer experience.

The frustration is compounded by having the reward earned be based on the number of qualifying orders rather than on the dollar amount spent. This is a problem for everyone because it encourages customers to place several small orders instead of one single one, and when they do place large orders, there is no benefit to them.

Using a points-per-dollar system would make every order valuable for customers and help increase the average order value for Jimmy John’s — a true lunchtime win.

Freaky Fast Rewards kneads more than just a pickle

All in all, we’re proud of Jimmy John’s for trying some new things with the Freaky Fast Rewards program. There are lots of wrinkles to iron out, but as they take the learnings from the first achievement badge challenges and figure out what challenges to release next, we hope they do whatever they can to make the program engaging and usable for all sandwich lovers.

And please, give us more than just more pickles.