Go to the grocery store and you’ll find plenty of QSR signature items on the shelves and in the freezers – everything from sauces to appetizers to make-your-own ingredients at home. You can also walk into a fashionable clothing retailer and find QSR t-shirts with vintage and current logos. Online at Dunkin’, you can pick up mugs, keychains, and shirts with a French cruller and coffee.
At first glance, the factors that influence where to grab a quick bite might seem different from those driving the purchase of a new pair of shoes. Yet they share a similar goal: to influence and serve customers wherever they are and with what they want.
Modernizing the customer experience and maintaining satisfaction are top priorities for retailers and restaurateurs. While there are distinct differences, here are some key best practices that both can leverage to meet growing consumer demands.
Where to go for what?
Retailers have always guided customers to products, and navigation is fundamental to good store design. Now it’s the same with QSRs. The pandemic has massively accelerated the widespread adoption of a variety of shopping pathways, including buy online, collect in store (BOPIS), delivery, and app-based ordering. Because of this change, stores and restaurants need customers to navigate multiple channels as quickly as possible, without confusion or stress.
In fact, effortless navigation was essential for survival during the period of contactless service. In retail, this meant creating an app or online shopping experience that mirrored the ease of in-store shopping or making in-store shopping safer through faster wayfinding. Retailers also needed to streamline advance ordering for curbside pickup.
Seemingly overnight, a critical focus of QSR became orchestrating all the ways food could be served in rapidly accelerating channels. This included upgrading drive-thru, curbside, walk-in experiences and delivery, which can complicate both in-store and parking lot flow.
All scenarios require clear parking lot signage and/or street paint telling customers where to go based on how they ordered. It is also driving the planning of more drive-thru, designated lanes, multiple pick-up windows, parking spots for quick pick-ups, and improved apps that help customers know how to get their orders quickly once there. .
Anticipating and then eliminating potential customer orientation issues – whether picking up food or picking up shoes – will improve customer experience and brand loyalty.
Create a Paper Bag Experience
The residual effects of the last two years continue to impact consumption habits in the QSR space. Customers are eating inside QSRs less, leading some brands to explore smaller footprints, and people continue to buy through a variety of channels instead of returning to eating only inside the restaurant.
While choices abound, brand connection and experience are even more important and go far beyond a transaction of something to eat or wear. The same goes for retail, as customers can easily shop online and never see the interior of a beautifully designed store or engage with the customer experience in person.
Creating brand connection in a delivery-centric world is largely an uncracked nut, but leaves plenty of room for creativity to break down the barrier of transaction versus experience through messaging or even to the interaction.
For example, Amazon offers its own and partner messaging outside of packages, while Hello Fresh meal delivery includes partner offers and messaging as well as a periodic “special ingredient” added as a sample of various suppliers. Additionally, Domino’s attempted to draw a requested image on the pizza box if added to the “special instructions” section of an app command. One delivery company even teamed up with a perfume merchant to trap aromas inside bubble wrap and invited recipients to “pop and smell”.
Wine bottles, cereal boxes and other packaging can be scanned and animated using QR code augmented reality. This trend continues in-store as well, as Moe introduced an in-store poster that you can interact with using your phone.
While surprise and delight may be more difficult than before with far fewer in-person contacts, QSR and retail brands should still deliver memorable interactions.
The Big Quit was big news in 2021 and continues to affect us this year, with retail, hotel and restaurant workers leading a long line of those saying, ‘I’m quitting’. The associate’s experience is paramount to the retention and execution of work. But, more than that, associate satisfaction is essential for a positive customer experience.
Digital initiatives can improve employee and customer experiences without adding additional labor costs. The first job of Retail Associates and QSRs is to help customers and remove friction throughout the buying journey. Wayfinding apps can increase the efficiency of your in-store staff by making it easy for consumers to find products and information. Both Home Depot and Micro Center have launched robust versions of in-store apps that provide wayfinding and product information and videos to aid in purchasing decisions.
The two companies also combine point-of-sale (POS) systems to display availability and accurate pricing information down to the store level. Domino’s “pizza tracker” app allows employees to focus on preparing pizza instead of answering customer calls about order status or even taking orders.
While easier on the customer and a great way to collect data and build customer profiles, these solutions also reduce the multitasking burden on employees, which improves the product and the customer experience. Associates who feel valued will enhance any interaction with customers. And happier, more engaged employees tend to stay on the job longer.
Pixels and pitting
QSRs and retailers have long relied on social media, partnering with social influencers and leveraging crowdsourced content to build a community of loyal brand advocates. The next digital space is the Metaverse – a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. Brands like McDonald’s, Adidas and Panera have already registered trademarks for virtual goods, restaurant operations, NFTs and delivery activities, allowing customers in the virtual world to place orders on the spot and bring food /products on their doorstep in the real world.
Brands that embrace this new channel of interaction will be able to capitalize on better customer experiences that will never happen in a real store or restaurant. Retail and QSR should be quick studies of shopping habits, experience expectations, and transaction triggers in the metaverse. Brands simply putting signage into a game interface or creating a little interaction that wasn’t built into the game are tactics of the past. Metaverse experiences should be multi-sensory and fully realized experiences.
Ultimately, the ultimate question also remains the same for any QSR or retailer: “Did we meet customer expectations today?” This remains true regardless of the universe in which we find ourselves.