COMMENTARY

McDonald's massive move to mobile ordering: A big change that warrants big groundwork

 
March 29, 2017 | by Russell Zack

McDonald’s recently unveiled plans to implement mobile ordering and curbside pickup are living proof that even the mightiest brands now know thaht when it comes to the future of customer service, the writing is on the wall — or at least the mobile screen in this case. Mobile ordering is the new standard and as the QSR giant now follows in the techy footsteps of chains like Starbucks, Panera Bread and Dominos, it's clear that many more restaurants will soon follow in order to provide customers the most up-to-date and easy-to-use experience, while also opening doors to better access to their favorite brands. 

Not only can customers now place orders well in advance, they can connect more closely with the places they love to eat, while also better meeting their individual dietary demands and whims, regardless of where they are at any given time. But the hefty transition restaurants must make to this new way of life also presents a prime opportunity to fail spectacularly without the right preparation, foresight and planning.

So, yes, the opportunity for mobile ordering is ripe. But, it's critical that McDonald's and those which will follow suit both understand prepare well for the challenges that may be encountered during rollout.

Logistical Challenges
In the last few years, mobile ordering has quickly gone from "nice-to-have" service, to business imperative, particularly for limited-service brands. But it’s not just mobile ordering technology implementation that's critical to get right. It's also the logistics that need to be in place and functioning well at the same time to ensure the consumer experience is on point. 

Brands must compel customers to both download and then use the app to order. But, a significant 77 percent of customers never use an app a single additional time  a mere three days after installing one.

For a prime example of what's needed, just think back to evolution of drive-thru ordering, the last big innovation in food prep. In its earliest days, restaurant operators had to work through a number of kinks in drive-thru implementation, including first, interpreting the right order and then queuing food so neither drivers nor in-store guests were waiting too long. 

Mobile ordering provides a similar kinds of challenges. With more advanced technology and a new approach to ordering, there’s a variety of logistical issues restaurants — particularly QSRs — must overcome to ensure an integrated customer experience. 

Many customers opt-in to mobile ordering to reduce the time of transactions and often they have expectations of minimal-to-no wait times when they arrive for pickup. However, success in mobile ordering means there will also be higher-order volume, and therefore higher output for food and services. In fact, the ability to order ahead has a very real risk of causing a backlog of orders at popular chains, along with bulky queues across mobile ordering, as well as longer waits in-store. 

While store managers used to be able to staff-up based solely on hourly foot traffic, they now must also anticipate the lift of customers ordering ahead or even anticipate customer traffic within the area to better manage supplies and distribute staff. 

Fragmented POS
The franchise model further complicates mobile ordering. For example, differences in technology platforms can create increased friction in highly franchised chains, in comparison to fully corporate-owned chains, like Starbucks. 

Many brick-and-mortar locations of a chain may have a variety of systems, especially if the parent company has offered a choice of systems and when individual locations upgrade their technology. Without a single universal system, individual franchises may have different inventory, food prep procedures and customer data, all creating miscommunication and extra hurdles during mobile ordering system rollouts. 

To ease these issues, limited service restaurant brands are wise to:

  • Delineate menu item variations for individual locations.
  • Increase ease of access to most popular menu items.
  • Standardize processes to create a more uniform customer experience, regardless of location.

Likewise, purchasing can be optimized when chains use the same technology across franchises, allowing brands to improve the overall purchasing experience across entire geographic footprints, while still giving each unit flexibility to optimize kitchen layouts and workflows for their needs. 

Adoption
No matter how flawless a brand's mobile ordering experience, employee and customer adoption is always a struggle. To get customers hooked, brands must compel customers to both download and then use the app to order. But, a significant 77 percent of customers never use an app a single additional time a mere three days after installing one.

That means brands must keep motivating customers to use the app by providing a stream of exclusive offers that come with using the app and ordering from it. Brands can also grow usage by providing loyalty point multipliers and using gamification tactics for activation and new app feature use for actions like mobile ordering and curbside pickup. For a market-leading example, check out Starbucks Bonus Star Bingo.

The impact and the path forward

From frazzled on-the-go workers to busy parents who want to spend as little time outside their vehicle as possible, mobile ordering has many fans. And as mobile functions like this increase in importance, the culture of buying changes.

Advance ordering and mobile payment offer plenty of flexibility and simplicity, along with substantial changes in the way customers interact with restaurant locations. 

In suburbia, for instance, retail food chains, like Kroger, is benefiting greatly from curbside pickup for pre-ordered grocerieswithout a trip inside the store. Meanwhile, retailers like Sam’s Club are extending their Scan-And-Go service to help app users scan products in the store aisle and avoid check-out altogether. The Amazon Go concept takes that a step forward as just one more examples of the many ways brands help customers make the most of their time by streamlining shopping.

As we approach 2020, 100-plus-location chains will increasingly find mobile ordering to be the core of their customer experience. When that occurs, this facet of restaurants' business activities will cease to be a point of differentiation. Instead, brands will distinguish themselves by increased personalization, voice ordering and delivery. Until then though, restaurant brands must optimize the mobile ordering experience, reduce areas of friction and start creating transactions that are truly memorable.

Photo: iStock


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Financing and capital improvements, Food & Beverage, Mobile Payments, Online Ordering, Operations Management, PCI Compliance, POS, Product Reviews, Systems / Technology


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