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Taco Bell feeds millennials’ high-tech appetites with mobile ordering

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February 12, 2014

Taco Bell's new mobile ordering app

In the latest example of how smartphones are making over the fast food dining experience, Taco Bell plans to introduce mobile ordering at all locations later this year.

Many fast food chains have embraced mobile to enhance their loyalty efforts but, with the exception of the big pizza chains such as Pizza Hut and Domino’s, enabling customers to place orders from their smartphones is taking longer to implement because of operational challenges. Taco Bell is addressing the needs of its core audience of millennials by developing its own mobile-ordering app in house.

“Our core fans are active mobile users always on the go, and we want to bring them a mobile app that improves their lives and is user friendly for all of Taco Bell’s consumers,” said Jeff Jenkins, senior manager of mobile experience at Taco Bell.

“More than 60 percent of Taco Bell orders are customized, and with 80 percent of people 18-34 owning a smartphone, the mobile app puts our brand in the customers’ hands,” he said. “We can provide a more personal experience that removes the pressure of having to decide on an order quickly, and strengthen the consumers’ confidence in customized orders.

“We believe mobile is going to be the biggest revolution in QSR since the drive-thru.”

GPS locator
For chains such as Taco Bell, whose core audience is younger consumers, mobile ordering makes a lot of sense as these customers are already using smartphones for multiple everyday activities.

One unique feature in the Taco Bell app is a GPS locator that will tell the kitchen when a customer who has placed an order is nearby so it can have the order ready and still hot when the customer arrives.

When users open the app, the first thing they will see is the menu and a message tailored to lunchtime or dinner diners or late-night snackers, depending on the time of day it is opened. Users will also be able to find calorie information, nearby locations, hours and directions.

“Instead of opening to the same-old screen every time, users will be greeted by a variety of messages tailored to the time of day,” Mr. Jenkins said.

Users will be able to place custom menu orders and save their favorite orders. They will also receive suggestions for a drink or dessert if one has not been ordered.

To pay, customers can use a Taco Bell gift card or credit card.

Orders can be picked up in-store or via the drive-thru, with customers able to choose their preference upon arrival.

Ordering up mobile experiences
The big national pizza chains embraced online ordering early on, making it easier for them to make the transition to mobile once it started taking off.

As a result, they are reaping the rewards, with simplified ordering via mobile helping them to drive results.

Mobile ordering is clearly on the menu for other fast food chains as well.

Chipotle has been offering mobile ordering for a few years, Jersey Mike’s introduced the capability late last year and Smashburger plans to bring mobile ordering to customers later this year.

In the case of Taco Bell, the chain reportedly has been working on its own mobile ordering app for a couple of years and recently tested the app at several locations in southern California. A broader roll out is expected to take place later this year.

“A big part of the Live Más mentality at Taco Bell is about doing things differently and making the ordinary extraordinary,” Mr. Jenkins said. “ Most people download apps, use them a few times and never open them again.

“So we took customer feedback into account to shift our strategy and build the customized app based on our consumers’ and operators’ needs,” he said. “Our insights led us to create a highly personalized offering with unique experiences and features that make the order experience convenient and customizable.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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