By adaptive - April 24th, 2017

The drive-through window helped revolutionize the way consumers got take out. But as Hans Klis discovered, mobile apps allowing hungry patrons to order ahead to avoid long lines are not only altering the experience but restaurant design and the bottom line as well.

Driving up to the sand colored Starbird Chicken in Sunnyvale, California you might not immediately notice that this restaurant is at the cutting edge of food services. The drive-through restaurant touts its delicious fried chicken sandwiches and tacos.

But strangely enough Starbird doesn’t have pick-up windows or even drive-through lanes. These elements of the traditional American roadside restaurant have been entirely replaced with a mobile click-and-collect model.

Starbird is a virtual drive through. Or as Elizabeth Friend, restaurant strategy analyst at Euromonitor International, calls the new chain: the ‘drive through experience 2.0.’ She says, “The concept has been built up from the ground-up to be as convenient as possible through mobile ordering.”

With the Starbird app consumers can order their Backyard BBQ sandwich or Starbird Drumstick on their device. Once they park their car at the restaurant they tap the ‘I’m here’ button in the app. The staff in the immediately kitchen starts to assemble the order; that only takes three minutes.

Since customers have already paid for the food, all consumers have to do is walk up to the counter and pick up the order. No line for the drive-through window, no wait in the car queue and no hassle.

According to Friend, consumers will be seeing more restaurants like Starbird Chicken popping up in the US in the future. It’s a logical evolution of the convenience that technology can offer. “The idea you can order on your phone and immediately pick up the items, means that there’s no more time gap when you order online. This mobile ordering and pick-up means that people can truly order whenever, wherever”.

Click Through the Clutter

But mobile ordering and pick up – also known as click-and-collect - has to be implemented correctly to really work. And that’s harder than it seems.

Starbucks learned the hard way, former CEO Howard Schultz admitted in February. The coffee chain started offering the ‘Mobile Order & Pay’ functionality through its app in 2015. With about three million users frequently ordering their coffee on the app Starbucks struggled with the real time ramifications of the success of this new service.

Customers picking up their pre-ordered coffee messed up the dynamic of the otherwise streamlined way the coffee bar serves walk-ins. Instead of being an alternative to standing in line, the ‘Mobile Order & Pay’ capabilities, proved to mess up everybody’s Starbucks experience. Even if it did help bump up the chain’s quarterly results. 

 “The biggest challenge for restaurants is building out the infrastructure for click-and-collect,” Friend says. “It’s easy to say: we need to have fulfillment in three minutes, all service channels serving simultaneously and keep everyone happy.”

Starbucks is currently in the process of analyzing how its stores can better handle both walk-ins and mobile customers. The company has implemented new measures including text message notifications that orders are ready and increasing staff at peak hours to handle the mobile orders. It’s the biggest challenge players like Starbucks, Chick-fill-A and McDonald’s are facing.

Helping restaurants and fast food chains adjust to the realities of click-and-collect, is what Tapingo does. The Online & Mobile Food Delivery platform services students at more than two hundred college campuses in the US through their app. For them Tapingo is a portal to various click-and-collect options at food vendors and retailers like Starbucks, Chipotle or Walgreens.

Students can easily order a Tuxedo Hot Cocoa or Smoked Butterscotch Frappucino to pick up at the local Starbucks counter just before class, without risking a long line and being late.

To prevent students from missing class, “Operations must be a hundred percent smooth,” explains Vivek Wagle, head of brand and culture at Tapingo. “You can imagine the mess if we just turn on mobile ordering in a venue that isn’t prepared for this. Personnel wouldn’t know what orders to prioritize”.

Tapingo has some idea how to best implement click-and-collect with partners; some venues process more than a thousand Tapingo transactions a day. “There’s a lot of practice on the ground”.

Tapingo has dedicated staff on campus to walk the floors of venues to help optimize the click-and-collect process. From identifying the optimal placing of printers to the best distribution of staff on the floor. “Chick-fill-A has redesigned one of their kiosks on a campus for Tapingo,” Wagle says. “Now there’s a walkup area entirely dedicated for Tapingo users. Complete with a Tapingo pickup sign.” It’s an easy fix to prevent congestion. “We’re seeing specific brick and mortar venues getting their layout to accommodate mobile ordering.”

The click-and-order trend is not exclusive to the food industry; big store retailers are all hopping onto the mobile ordering train. According to retail analytics company L2’s latest Omnichannel report, 47 percent of US retailers offer the feature. Target is one of them.

According to spokesperson Jamie Bastian, ‘Order Pickup’ is growingrapidly. “Guests chose to have nearly 50 percent more items picked up in store this year than last, and they love that Target will have it ready for them within an hour or two. On Christmas Eve 2016, Target stores fulfilled more than 80 percent of all orders –shipping about half of those to guests through our Ship from Store capabilities and packing the other half for in-store Order Pickup.”

During the holiday season of 2015 Target had some hiccups with their new click-and-collect service. Like a lot of retailers it struggled with space requirements to store orders and fulfilling them while simultaneously serving walk-in customers. But that is a thing of the past. It is now an integrated part of the consumer experience and central to its ecommerce and store growth.

Click-and-collects get consumers who otherwise would’ve ordered online and had their order delivered, to go into the store and pick up some more products. This year Target is updating a hundred existing stores and opening more than thirty new-format stores in urban neighborhoods and college campuses.

Click-and-collect seemingly works best when retail locations densely cover large areas.Given the vast distances, click-and-collect hasn’t had the impact in the US, as it has in Europe.  

“With locations in every city - in every country we operate in - the customer can easily choose the store he or she wants to pick up the order,” explains Tico Schneider, head of e-commerce at Dutch international retailer HEMA. If one shop doesn’t have all the items, it’s easy to select another one nearby. This provides the perfect combination of click and brick, he says.

Schneider adds it’s the ultimate form of customer centricity: “the customer now has the power to decide if he wants home delivery, a pick up or to shop in the store.” Last summer the international retailer added in-store picking – staff fulfilling orders in store - which makes pick ups possible a half an hour after ordering.

The HEMA exec says it became a PR win, “Our customer service had to deal with people who just couldn’t believe it. It was a good opportunity for our social media team to tell customers how much effort and care we put into preparing their order”.

In this way click-and-collect provides an interaction that boosts its brand loyalty. And now that disruptive players like Amazon are also invading the physical space with stores, pick up points and also food delivery, it’s only common sense that retailers like HEMA and restaurants are staying ahead of the curve with innovative click-and-collect services. 

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