McDonalds Order-Ahead Mobile App Falls Flat Bank Innovation

McDonalds Order-Ahead Mobile App Falls Flat

September 19, 2014 by Sam Maule

Many in the restaurant and fast food space are looking to cash in on the success Starbucks has seen with its mobile wallet app. Starbucks, as of Q1 2014, has 12 million active users (active = Nirvana in the mobile wallet space) spending $6 million a week on skinny non-fat with an espresso shot lattes (I’m not sure if that is a real selection or not but the data points are impressive). All in all, Starbucks’ app accounts for 15% of Starbucks’ transactions.

Howard Shultz, the dynamic CEO of Starbucks, recently announced the addition of an ‘order/pay-ahead’ feature allowing mobile wallet users to skip the queue. This is an obvious and welcome addition to the app, and one already in play by multiple players in the space including Chipotle, White Castle, and Five Guys.

The perennial king of fast food, McDonalds, is currently facing multiple challenges. Newer competitors such as Chipotle are taking market share, millennials aren’t flocking to buy a Big Mac (research by Technomic found younger millennials in the U.S. traffic to McDonald’s has fallen almost 13% on a monthly basis since 2011), and their longtime rival Burger King is making significant business model changes under CEO Daniel Schwartz (who at 33 years old just happens to be a millennial).

A key component of McDonald’s responses to these challenges has been to push digital innovation, and one of their initial product rollouts has been the McDonald’s mobile wallet.  The wallet has been undergoing beta testing in Columbus, Georgia; incidentally the home to TSYS and coincidently the hometown of my wife’s family. A few weeks ago I took advantage of a family trip to Columbus to give the McDonald app a trial run.

Downloading and installing the app was simple enough.  The app is available for both iPhone and Android.  The initial account setup was also simple, as it should be.  As one would expect I had the ability to link multiple cards to the app including both debit and credit card accounts.

My initial reservations with the app came when I tried to submit my first order, as my family and I began our long drive home to Florida from Columbus. The app didn’t default to the typical Uber or Airbnb location map that I find so useful. Instead it defaulted to a pull down list of locations in my locale identified by street address. My initial reaction was to think, what good does this do me if I’m not familiar with the area? The more I thought about it the more this setup irritated me. If I’m traveling and I want to order ahead, then let me pick a location on my route. Show me a damn map, not a pull down list. You can get to the map by clicking on a selection in the list; however, that’s one click to many.

Scrolling through the menu selections and submitting the order was straightforward and in-line with my expectations. Once the payment transaction was completed I was presented with a screen instructing me that when I arrived at the specific McDonalds I needed to scan the QR code the app provided to submit my order.  So much for ‘order ahead,’ I thought. Back in Florida we routinely order a ‘two for twenty’ meal at our local Chili’s. This transaction is performed online and we are given a time the food will be ready. We then drive and pick it up, no muss, no fuss. Same with pizza orders we have on movie night. Submit the order, pay online, and the food is delivered.

When I arrived at the McDonalds I pulled in line at the drive through. I expected a scanner at the drive through order display but none was available.  I drove on to the pickup window and handed the young teen worker my phone with the QR code displayed. She informed me I needed to drive around to the front where there was special parking spot for mobile app orders. You guessed it; this was right next to the handicapped parking spots. I parked my car and my daughter and I walked up to scan the QR code on my phone against the display.  This would be a miserable experience in the rain or cold, by the way.  After multiple attempts to scan I received the dreaded error message on my phone that the app was having issues sending the order to the restaurant (The restaurant was all of 10 yards away from the reader.)

At this point my irritation level was pinging at about 8 out of 10; however, I am a FinTech guy, so we proceeded into the restaurant. In the scanning station behind the line, I again attempted to scan the QR code without any success. Again, the same message “Your order is having connectivity issues with the restaurant” this time all of about 10 feet from the counter. My daughter and I joined the order line and once we finally made it to the counter I informed the next teenager behind the counter that I had placed a mobile app order. She turned around and asked the manager if any mobile app orders had been submitted.  “Not today.” I let out a large sigh and proceed to have my money refunded which was about as painful as you can imagine. I then resubmitted my order and swiped my credit card. This transaction and order worked immediately. Shocking, isn’t it.

As I waited for my order I asked the teenager at the counter how many mobile app orders they had taken over the past few weeks. She actually laughed at my question (never a good sign). She responded “Maybe five and three of them we had to refund ‘cause they didn’t go through.”

All in all it took almost 30 minutes from the time we pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot to the time my daughter and I delivered the four drinks we had ordered ahead. Not exactly a successful beta test. And by now my wife, kids, and dog were highly annoyed with me for delaying our drive home to test, in the words of my wife, a ‘completely-stupid-waste-of-time-and-money app’. She is obviously not a convert.

The bottom line just because you can build an app doesn’t mean you should attempt to do this on your own. For example, I recently had a home built in Florida. I, being the extremely frugal individual that I am, decided to purchase and install the ceiling fans throughout my new home myself and not to use a certified electrician. This was a logical decision to me as it saved me around a thousand bucks and, after all, I was an electrician in the Navy. Yes, that was twenty years ago and I wasn’t exactly installing ceiling fans on submarines, but that’s not the point.

Fast forward nine wobbly ceiling fan installs later and you end up with an irate wife, a dog that scurries out of every room when you turn on the fans, and an eight year old son who keeps exclaiming “Daddy, I think it’s gonna fall!” every five minutes. Oh, and a certified electrician to re-install nine ceiling fans at about a grand in total cost.

McDonald’s press release on September 2 notes its mobile app will roll out to consumers on September 15.  Hopefully they’ve worked on the kinks from my little test run. I don’t’ know if McDonald’s built their mobile app in house or if they partnered with a third party. What I do know is they need to benchmark the app a heck of a lot better along with any other digital integration they have in mind. I expect Starbucks pay-ahead product to be quite a bit more user friendly.  The lesson here is straightforward enough: Please fully think out the use cases from the consumers’ point of view and not the app’s. Technology is great; however, people are the ones who actually execute the use case. The app doesn’t stand in the rain or in 105 degree heat in front of a sign trying to scan a QR code to submit an order.

And hire an electrician to install the damn ceiling fans. That tip is from my wife.

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