Article in Product Design UX UI, App Review categories.

What McDonald’s Can Learn From The Best Mobile Ordering Apps

Mobile ordering apps are the next step in food technology. McDonald's current offering isn't especially compelling. Here's how they can improve.

Fast-casual and quick service restaurants (QSR) like Panera, Chipotle, Dig Inn, and Sweetgreen have become the norm for busy office workers looking for a quick, affordable, healthy lunches. In 2016, the fast-casual industry was worth an estimated $47 billion. Mobile ordering apps are the next step in food technology making this process more efficient. Yet, if that’s the case, why is a food service goliath getting this so wrong?

Mobile ordering apps, through optimizing payment speed, rewarding loyalty, or maximizing accessibility when ordering remotely, are a key to helping these brands get the edge up on their competitors. Yet the Chicago based global fast food enterprise, recently added a clunky cumbersome ordering component to their app.

How can McDonald's improve their user experience? A quick look at more successful ordering apps in the fast casual and quick service restaurants industries will provide some guidance.

mcdonalds mobile ordering apps comparison infographic starbucks dig inn sweetgreen

Great Mobile Ordering Apps Have These Four Things In Common

Loyalty Programs That Reward Frequent Guests

A 2016 Facebook IQ survey showed that millennials are still loyal to brands. One of the most effective ways to maintain brand loyalty, according to millennials surveyed, is through mobile.

“Your diners are spending more and more time staring down at their phones,” said Marinn Jackson, Head of Industry & Restaurants at Facebook. “So your opportunity sits in the palm of your diners’ hands.”

Creating a rewards loop that keeps guests coming back is an easy way to boost daily active guests for an ordering app. The concept of loyalty rewards started with punch cards, but translating this simple but effective tactic to mobile means successful ordering apps have to automated rewards programs to draw guests in. The best give tangible benefits, like free food after spending a certain amount of money. It encourages guests to keep ordering via their phones and even lets them overlook any minor issues they may have with the app.

mcdonalds dig inn starbucks app screenshot comparisons mobile ordering apps

McDonald's exclusive deals do not do much in the way of loyalty. They act more as an extension of a coupon, rather than a punch card. Loyalty programs provide more value to companies, encouraging habits that create regular guests, which is more profitable than sporadic deals via coupons. These deals may give mobile guests a perk for downloading the app, but they do not reward daily use.

The Starbucks app is great due to how easily its become part of its guests’ daily routine. The robust rewards system gives guests credit towards free drinks with every purchase. To daily Starbucks drinkers, this adds up in a major way.

Dig Inn and Sweetgreen use the same rewards profile via LevelUp, feeding benefits into a unified third-party system that keeps track of rewards across LevelUp apps. These apps, along with Potbelly and other fast-casual ordering apps, make rewards flexible and therefore more appealing to the average guest.

Good Mobile Ordering Apps Save Guests Time

mcdonalds dig inn starbucks app screenshot comparisons mobile ordering apps

Mobile ordering is supposed to be a quicker alternative to waiting in line. At McDonald's, the clunkiness of the app, alongside the already efficient mobile kiosk system, negates all the benefits of ordering through the mobile app.

The fact that McDonald’s already has a well-implemented system for processing orders makes the disappointment even greater. Once an order is placed, it is instantaneously moved to the in-store display, which leads to timely service and transparency on where your order is in the queue. This automated system has led to success with the restaurant’s in-store kiosks, they just need to capture that same magic on phones.

Both Dig Inn and Sweetgreen can have midday wait times that can easily eat up a lunch hour. However, with their mobile ordering apps, it is easy to place an order ahead of time, prepay, and pick up when it's ready, leading to mobile guests spending less than a minute in store.

This works as an effective marketing strategy too, by showing guests what they are missing and giving a reason to download the app. In store, a guest will be standing in line, see others picking up their mobile orders instantly, and just like that they are using the app for their next lunch.

Efficient and Modern UX

mcdonalds dig inn starbucks app screenshot comparisons mobile ordering apps

The most important element of any ordering app is the UI and UX. Being able to lead a guest from the menu to check out in a matter of minutes (seconds, if they know what they want) is paramount. Concise drop-down menus, accurate location services, and as few screens as possible in the order flow is what needs to happen.

This is where McDonald's fumbles. The UX is overly complicated and ends up being more time consuming than ordering at a McDonald's kiosk and more cumbersome than waiting in line and reciting your order to an employee.

QSR Mobile Product Development Is Iterative

At Fueled, we like to quote Reid Hoffman and say "If you're not embarrassed by your first product, you've shipped too late." We can say, with almost absolute certainty, that these apps didn’t launch with the perfect version that guests now find essential.

Starbucks has made major improvements to their rewards system over the years – you used to only get stars per purchase regardless of how many items you buy. They quickly realized how crucial their loyalty program was and focused on making critical improvements to the system.

Dig Inn’s app existed for years before they added quick reorder and saving orders. By adding new features and improving UI over the period of years, they have created an app that stands up to competitors and leverages the natural advantages of mobile.

McDonald's is relatively new to mobile ordering, so there is still plenty of time to build great UI and a loyalty program around the tremendous infrastructure and loyalty that currently exists.

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