Lengthy lineups are often considered one of the greatest challenges facing the fast food industry, but a growing number of companies are getting savvy with smartphone apps designed to keep impatient customers satisfied.
Next week, Starbucks Canada will launch an update to its popular payment app that will allow people to jump the queue by placing orders before they even step inside one of its cafes.
By design, the new service is intended to reduce the amount of time spent standing around waiting for a cashier, and hopefully shorten the length of lineups during peak hours.
It’s one of the latest developments from retailers looking to appease the grab-and-go culture, where customers don’t necessarily want the traditional in-store experience or feel the daily grind is putting a squeeze on their schedules.
“The lineup for some can be an incredible deterrent in the morning,” said Jessica Mills, director of brand and digital operations for Starbucks Canada.
“There’s this interesting paradox that’s going on. People want speed and convenience … and then there are moments when people just want to slow down and take a few moments for themselves.”
With the app, Starbucks hopes to give its customers the option to choose a more rushed service or stand in line and socialize, she said.
Starbucks’ new Mobile Order & Pay option rolls out across the 300 stores owned by the company in the Toronto area on Oct. 13. The feature will only be available to customers with Apple’s iPhone at first, though an Android version is coming.
The service will expand to other Canadian cities next year, but no timeline has been finalized.
Already, 18% of sales at Starbucks’ Canadian cafes are completed using its existing mobile payment app, which incorporates the company’s loyalty program.
Ordering food and drinks through a smartphone isn’t exactly a fresh idea, despite the recent surge in popularity.
Starbucks began testing the concept in the U.S. market last year as a growing number of food services companies looked to stand out from competitors by acknowledging that customers don’t like to wait around for their meals.
Other American retailers like Dunkin’ Donuts and Chipotle Mexican Grill were also early adopters.
Introducing smartphone payments has taken longer in Canada, even though studies have shown we’re quick to adopt new technologies like Facebook.
Pizza delivery chains like Pizza Pizza and Domino’s Pizza were some of the first innovators with apps that gave Canadian customers the option to create their pizza before selecting either delivery or pick-up service.
Introducing these new technologies could pose risks for retailers, suggested Ela Veresiu, an assistant professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business.
“One short-term risk is that non-technologically savvy consumers will experience feelings of frustration for having to wait in line and seeing others getting served first,” she said.
“A second, longer-term risk associated with this strategy is that once all competitors in the marketplace introduce this line-hopping app, how will the company and brand differentiate itself and maintain a loyal customer base?”
Instead of diving into the world of apps, some companies have chosen a different route in the Canadian market.
Despite testing mobile ordering in some U.S. cities, McDonald’s Canada recently announced it would focus on a self-serve system kiosk within its stores, which let customers line up and customize their burgers.
Walmart Canada is another retailer focused on helping customers avoid lineups. The company launched a webstore feature that lets customers order online and then pick up their items at designated lockers inside the store.
App-based delivery services like Ubereats and Hurrier courier have found another route around lineups by offering to pick up meals and deliver them right to your home or office.