Mobile helped restaurants connect with consumers in 2014

| by Brenda Rick Smith
Mobile helped restaurants connect with consumers in 2014

Panera was one of several restaurants in 2014 that benefited from increased consumer smartphone use

Technology answered two key questions for restaurant brands in 2014:

  • How can we reduce friction for customers?
  • How can we stay connected with customers?

And the answers for both questions almost always involved mobile.

More than 90 percent of smartphone users report they are rarely more than two feet away from their device at any given time, presenting a significant opportunity for marketers.

Starbucks has long been a front-runner in mobile and loyalty. Currently, 32 percent of payments in its U.S. stores are made through prepaid cards, and half of those are made from mobile, according to Adam Brotman, chief digital officer.

Starbucks has now launched mobile order and pay in the Portland, Oregon market and plans to roll it out nationwide in 2015. It's hoping that the increased efficiency of mobile order and pay will drive more occasions; it's banking on the idea that customers who didn't have time to go to a store, place an order and wait for their order will be enticed to order and pay through the app because it's so much quicker.

Panera is using a slightly different approach to reducing friction for customers with its Panera 2.0 initiative introduced in April.

One of the features of Panera 2.0 is a rapid pick up line, where customers can place orders online up to 5 days in advance and schedule pick up. Customers can also order online from inside a Panera bakery café and have their order delivered to their table.

Panera is adding ordering kiosks in-store, giving customers another ordering option during peak times.

Since a major part of the appeal of fast casual is the fact that it is fast, these and similar efforts to make ordering as efficient as possible seem likely to pay off for restaurants.

Staying connected through apps

Apps continue to be one of the primary ways brands stay connected to loyal customers. According to Flurry Analytics, 86 percent of the time smartphones are in use, owners are operating mobile apps, indicating a clear preference for apps over internet browsing.  

Many brands launched apps this year, most focused on building loyalty or adding ordering and payment options.

Notable app launches this year included Panda Express' group ordering platform. The app allows multiple people to place orders from separate devices, combining them into a single group order. Payment can be made individually or by one person paying for the group.

Schlotzsky's new "Lotz 4 Me" loyalty app had a strong launch in June, with 60,000 downloads in the first three and a half weeks. More than 11,000 people downloaded the app on the first day alone, driving "Lotz 4 Me" as high as fourth on the restaurant charts in the Apple Store. 

The app rewards fans for downloading, inviting friends to download the app and for purchases.

Schlotzsky's also upped its app game this fall by adding game features.

Moving ahead, look for brands to continue to move loyalty programs away from plastic cards and toward apps. Customers will also increasingly expect the ease of mobile ordering and payments in the brand apps they use.

Will Apple Pay be a game-changer?

Apple caused ripples throughout the restaurant and retail industries when it introduced its contactless Apple Pay feature this fall.

Apple Pay is being touted as an easy, more secure way for iPhone 6 users to pay for purchases in person and through apps. Within days of the Apple Pay's introduction, Panera and a host of other restaurant and retail brands announced that they would take Apple Pay. 

Apple Pay presents opportunities for marketers because of its integration with Passbook, a mobile wallet that can be used by customers to store loyalty cards and special offers.

Marketers can leverage location and notification features to trigger events for smartphone users, including notifying the customer when they are near a store, reminding them to use an offer, extending new offers and more.

While mobile wallets could be an important new channel for brands, it all hinges on the consumers shifting away from paying with plastic in favor of paying with their smartphones. Even with Apple leading the way, that's could be a tough transition. Paying with plastic is easy, and consumers will have to perceive value beyond ease of use to be convinced paying with a smartphone is the way to go. 

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart

Topics: Contactless / NFC, Handsets / Devices, In-App Payments, Loyalty Programs, POS, Restaurants, Trends / Statistics

Brenda Rick Smith
Brenda has more than 20 years of experience as a marketing and public relations professional. She invested most of her career telling the story of entrepreneurial non-profit organizations, particularly through social media. wwwView Brenda Rick Smith's profile on LinkedIn

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