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The Analytics Behind Mobile Order Ahead for Restaurants

Some say that mobile order ahead is just another trend: one of the latest and greatest innovations in the quick-service restaurant industry. They hear data on how the mobile ordering market will reach $38 billion by 2020 (encompassing 11% of all quick-service restaurant sales) and rush out to explore mobile options without really considering why it works or how to integrate it into their larger service strategy.

Mobile order ahead is the logical progression of QSR

It stands to reason that mobile order ahead would be customers’ preferred shopping style in 2019. It’s a system of mutual benefit. Customers can handle the transaction on their terms, order at their convenience, and have a faster checkout experience when they go to pick up.

Likewise, businesses benefit from the increased amount of customer behavior data they get through app interaction, and better engagement with their app-based loyalty programs. Of course, there’s also the revenue angle to consider. Mobile order ahead offers huge potential for capturing sales in situations where the traditional QSR experience just won’t cut it.

We’ve all been there. We wake up late, take a fast shower, and head out to the office in a rush. As we pass by our favorite café, we wonder if we have enough time to stop in for the morning fuel up—only to see a line out the door.

With traditional ordering, few customers would be willing to put up with the wait, but with mobile order ahead, it’s possible to serve these customers and reclaim that lost revenue. This is just one example of how mobile ordering solutions can empower a QSR business, and new use cases are appearing fast.

Order ahead adoption rates are growing fast

The benefits of a mobile order ahead solution for QSRs is highlighted by just how fast the industry is taking off. A recent study found that the volume of orders placed through mobile apps increased 130% from 2016 to 2019. Industry leaders thus far have been the big, national chains with their own branded apps: Starbucks, Domino’s, and the like. But QSRs of all sizes can find opportunities through mobile order ahead options.

Research on mobile order ahead adoption found that, among smaller QSRs, only 30.7% had their own mobile apps for ordering, with 31.7% more offering pickup via third-party service. With less than a third of QSRs currently using mobile order ahead solutions, there’s a big opportunity here for restaurant owners.

The earlier a business can get on board with mobile order ahead, the more likely customers will view it as a key part of the company’s service offerings. This can go a long way as a competitive differentiator, particularly for busy customers who are already used to ordering ahead. The studies referenced above highlight this well:

  • 86% of mobile app operators said their offerings boosted revenues;
  • 93% said apps improved guests’ experiences and encouraged repeat purchases.

The consumer preference for fast, simple ordering is clear, and restaurants are responding in kind.

Mobile order ahead as a customer experience strategy

Letting customers order from wherever they want has clear potential for boosting revenue, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. QSRs need to move away from thinking of the mobile experience as a luxury and treat it like the revolution that it is.

For example, many businesses are adapting their infrastructure to better support their mobile order ahead experiences. They’re creating dedicated pickup lanes for pre-orders, skip the line options, and group ordering tools that make it easier for customers to get what they want. We see this disruption all across the QSR industry, from restaurants to food trucks to cafeterias. Everyone wants in on the mobile order ahead game.

But this type of organizational buy-in is essential to the process. Stores need to commit to their mobile experiences and align their brick-and-mortar marketing strategies to support their customers’ preferences on all fronts.

Find the right mobile order ahead solution

Any analysis of mobile order ahead must come with a disclaimer: Find the right tool for your business!

Many bigger companies prefer to work with their own branded apps, but as we know, this is an expensive and time-consuming project. QSRs who work through processors like Square have it we see. Apps like PoppinPay integrate directly to your business’s Square POS and give you and your customers a complete mobile app experience that is branded to your business.

All it takes is a quick integration and you’ll be able to setup your app interface, pull products and pricing from your catalogue, integrate loyalty programs (Q3 2019), and enable customers to send payment and orders directly to your Square system. In short, it’s the fastest way to deploy an order ahead solution without the need for significant IT investment or project planning.

The future of mobile order ahead

Things are looking bright for mobile order ahead. Companies are starting to see just how powerful these tools can be, and more businesses than ever are giving them a try. We expect adoption rates to continue to rise as more by feel comfortable validating the technology, and those that commit early will have an edge over those who wait.

Look at your own operation and see whether your customers could benefit from a mobile order ahead approach. But be careful—once they try it, they won’t want to go back!