We don't eat at  McDonald's very often, but as a parent of young children, it's inevitable that we're going to eat there sooner or later. If nothing else, McDonald's is arguably one of the most convenient fast food options available. It's sort of the ideal option when you're running kids between sports practices and simply don't have time to cook. 

Even if you pull into a McDonald's and there's a long line of people who had the same idea about how convenient it would be, there's another option. You can order in the McDonald's mobile app. Except there's a problem, and it's a big one.

If you want to use the McDonald's mobile app, you have to agree to join the company's rewards program, MyMcDonald's Rewards. There is literally no way to get past it. As soon as you launch the app, the rewards sign-up takes over.

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There's no "join later," "skip," or "no thanks" option available. Either you join, or the app is useless. Actually, it's worse than useless because it just sits on the screen taunting you with a reminder that you could use the app if you'd just sign up. 

That's not just a problem, it's a fatal flaw. So much so that I won't use the mobile app at all.

Sure, I know most people just tap their way through, thinking, "Hey, if McDonald's wants to give me rewards, I'm cool with that." I get it, it's just McDonald's. No one is forced to eat there.

That's true, but I'm not suggesting that the company is infringing on some sort of imaginary "right to fast food" with its app. It isn't. McDonald's is obviously free to build its app any way it wants, but that doesn't mean it should. And that's the point, really.

I understand you might be wondering why anyone wouldn't want to participate in a rewards program. Who doesn't like free stuff just for buying what you were already planning to buy? That's a fair question, but I think the issue is slightly different. I don't want to join a McDonald's loyalty program, and I can't figure out why I should have to join one in order to use the app. 

A rewards program isn't necessary to the function of the app, or even to the function of placing an order at McDonald's. By requiring you to join, it's requiring you to hand over more information than would otherwise be necessary to use the app.

I get why the company wants to force you to use the rewards program. It allows McDonald's to track your ordering habits and show you offers. As a marketing strategy, that's very smart. Those customized offers, based on your order history, work to generate future visits.

The only reason any company has a rewards program is that it knows that the end result is that you'll end up spending more money with them than you would otherwise. Rewards programs seem like a good deal for the customer, but they're an even better deal for the company. No rewards program is actually free.

The other problem is that the user experience of being required to join something, without any other option, is really bad. If your primary brand position is that you're the convenient option, forcing a user to "join" something is not a very customer-friendly design choice.

I imagine there are a lot of people who might read this and think, "It's just a rewards program. It's not that big of a deal." On the surface, I agree. Except, the fact that we can agree to that is simply another sign that we've grown far too accustomed to handing over our personal information in exchange for "free." 

It shouldn't be the requirement of any app or business that we must agree to targeted marketing in order to hand over our money for something. In fact, I'd argue that violates the most important rule in running a business.

The rule is this: Make it easy for your customers to do business with you. Of course, there will always be friction. If you're taking customer orders, you need some personal information. You also need their payment information. 

However, when you start to force anything more than that, especially when it's basically for the sake of your own marketing, you're putting your own interests before those of your customers. That's the one thing no business should ever do.