Why QSRs are investing in in-store tech

Restaurant Tech Live blog post 1

Quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are short for time when it comes to establishing long lasting relationships with their customers, but, with the likes of Subway and McDonald’s making notable enhancements to their in-store experience, the rise in in-store technology is highly noticeable.

Not content to rest on their laurels, KFC are also getting in on the act, installing an animatronic Colonel Harland Sanders robot at some locations in America, complete with speech recognition and artificial intelligence (AI), to transform the drive-thru operator's voice into the brand mascot's distinctive Southern drawl. This tactic served to personalise the customer experience, enhancing what would have otherwise been a very routine drive-thru experience. Rather significantly, it also suggests that a new wave of innovation is set to sweep the industry, in the midst of innovations to the online and mobile ordering experience.

This revolution is likely emerging in response to consumers' evolving behaviors and their ever-evolving need for immediacy. As a result, consumers are turning to digital channels like mobile and social media in their droves. Notably, nowadays, even the in-store experience is going digital thanks to the emergence of new technologies like digital signage, which has the capacity to flick between multiple content sources like menus, news, weather, sports and social media, engaging customers and reducing wait time.

Digital Doughnuts

Dunkin Donuts celebrated this year's National Doughnut Day in June, by implementing a campaign that integrated live social media conversations about fans' favourite flavours onto digital menu boards in select stores.

While consumers could engage with the brand through doughnut-themed content online, downloading virtual sticker packs and emojis and engaging with an AI-powered chatbot, their main aim, according to Melanie Cohn, the company’s senior manager of digital and social media, was to attract hordes of new customers. Upon arriving at the store, customers were able to share their brand fandom with friends via a sponsored Snapchat selfie lens and geofilter only available in or near one of the 8,500 U.S. stores, which saw the brand’s daily online mentions dramatically increase to more than 400%, as determined by the hashtag #NationalDonutDay, which swept the internet.

Dunkin' Donuts' digital displays are particularly effective due to their adaptability. The technology can be used to promote daily specials or instantly switch between hot or cold drinks, according to the weather. The company's embracing of emerging digital technologies demonstrates shifting priorities towards the on-demand concept which is driving innovation across the sector. In accordance with the fundamentals of QSRs digital technologies serve to enhance the speed of service and pander to customers’ ever-changing tastes and preferences, through providing an increasingly immersive and personalised customer experience. Likewise, menu boards should work much in the same way. Additionally, these panels allow restaurants to share up-to-date inventory information and notify customers of when popular items are sold out or are in short supply.

Personalising the brand experience

McDonald's, one of the industry’s key drivers of growth and innovation, started to implement digital kiosk ordering and table service last year, as part of a wider initiative to improve the customer experience. The touch-screen technology has proved popular as it serves to speed up the ordering process and personalise the customer experience by enabling customers to customize their food. This in turn improves the in-store experience, as serves are enabled to focus on providing a more engaging and hospitable customer service, aside from just accepting payments.

Gerard Murphy, director of product at TripAdvisor Restaurants, has credited the fast food chain for continuing to provide a more localized experience in despite of its global expansion, citing how cultural differences have served to demonstrate this.  Murphy said: "For example, the McDonald's in Boston, MA, that serves lobster rolls in the summer is different than the McDonald's in India that serves the McSpicy paneer burger."

Such efforts by McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and other chains demonstrates that QSRs are avidly looking to establish more meaningful connections with customers locally through digital mediums, to drive customer engagement and position QSRs as modern thought leaders operating at the forefront of the industry.

Tapping into consumer behaviour

Many QSRS are investing in digital tech in order to directly appeal to the ubiquitous   customer constantly connected to their mobile. Sensing an opportunity to take advantage of customers’ online presence, marketers are increasingly looking to utilize the affordances of mobile technology to find new ways of engaging with their customers.

Only recently, Sandwich giant Subway demonstrated its ‘Fresh Forward intitiative’, through implementing self-order kiosks, mobile pay, USB charging ports at tables and a Facebook Messenger bot for taking orders.

Aside from simply listing food items, in-store tech can also provide in-depth information like allergy or calorie data, which can help food businesses to make more informed decisions long before the point of purchase, boosting customer engagement with the brand, as outlined in a 2015 Nielsen survey. The survey found that marketing displayed on digital signs led to a recall rate of 83% and and 400% more views than static displays, as customers are treated to a variety of content on rotation.