Phoning It In: Mobile at the Store

FARE attendees dial into potential of customers using smartphones for payment, loyalty

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

Shultz Hartgrove (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Technology)

Shultz Hartgrove

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Whether paying with a smartphone or ordering pizza, customers are wanting to do more with mobile when it comes to getting food outside the home, according to speakers at CSP Business Media's 2014 FARE retail foodservice conference in Grapevine, Texas.

That desire is breeding expectation, said Shultz Hartgrove, president of Brand Management, Denver, at a workshop. The more shoppers learn from leading-edge retailers about the potential of mobile in the retail foodservice environment, the more they'll expect of every operator no matter what the channel or venue.

"It's a new way to shop," Hartgrove said. "It's a way to empower the shopper and let him shop on his terms."

Technology is certainly making its way into just about every kind of foodservice environment, said Shaun Beard, senior vice president, SAVOR, West Conshohocken, Pa., which handles concessions in major arenas, stadiums and convention centers. He said it offers phone ordering, digital kiosks as well as the traditional cashier experience.

"For many people, part of the stadium experience is to get up and walk around, so they'll want to get the food," Beard said, noting how buyer behavior is definitely in flux. "But I can see where ordering from the phone [and having food delivered] may become more popular over time. People want choices."

In addition, mobile can bring many opportunities to give special deals to loyal customers, draw in those who live and work in the area and speed up the entire experience.

Hartgrove brought up an airport scenario where a bagel brand reached out to airline employees. For brands with the potential to draw in specific audiences, special discounts, "secret" menu options or free refills could foster loyalty and even address logistics and peak traffic times.

Other points:

  • Fearing a flood of orders. Beard said don't worry that a store will get 70,000 orders just because they have an app. In his experience, it doesn't happen that way. As a matter of fact, the mistake many retailers make is to build an app but not properly market it. Panel moderator Vijay Bangaru, CEO and president of Inc., Boulder, Colo., said one pizza chain he's involved with puts the website on their boxes and tells people who order over the phone that they have an ordering app.
  • Operational savings. Mobile initiatives can help save on an operational side. Bangaru said one company was able to cut down on cashier labor because more ordering went digital.
  • Suggestive marketing. Mobile apps can be designed to suggest higher-margin items, Hartgrove said, with one way being something as simple as putting that item in bold lettering. Other technologies--such as Bluetooth-tied "beacon" messages within the store or at the gasoline pump--can reach customers at key decision-making points.
  • Communication is key. Like any disruptive change, communication across all levels of the company is important, Hartgrove said. Something like mobile will touch all departments from finance to marketing, operations to IT.

The time to act is now, Bangaru said. Although there may be questions over execution and technical challenges to overcome, he said major retail and restaurant chains are already developing their mobile strategies. Doing nothing is to be left behind, he said.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
View More Articles By Angel Abcede