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McDonald’s US ordering-app test brings era of line-free ordering closer

McDonald’s first use in the United States of a company-branded mobile-ordering and payments application at restaurants in Columbus, GA, continues an effort by the world’s largest restaurant chain to get a much-demanded service right before making it more widely available.

The app, available for both iPhones and Android devices, allows customers to skip store or drive-thru lines by scanning a QR code at a restaurant. The move is the latest example of how the QSR sector is leading the charge with mobile payments.

“We are testing some of these technologies in a few markets, so it’s premature to speculate on the decisions we may make after the tests, but we’re excited to bring a cutting-edge experience in the future to our customers,” said Lisa McComb, McDonald’s media relations director in Oak Brook, IL.

“We’re always looking at new technologies to make the McDonald’s experience better for our customers,” she said.

First branded ordering app

McDonald’s has experimented with mobile order-ahead and payment smartphone apps in foreign markets such as Thailand, Singapore, Sweden, France and Austria. It has also tested offers through the Isis mobile wallet.

In the U.S., to gear up for an eventual broader roll-out of mobile payments, the company has launched a branded loyalty app that lets franchises send out targeted and specific offers. The app is live in several markets, including cities in California, Nevada and New England (see story).

The Georgia test, marking the first U.S. use of a McDonald’s-branded ordering app, is seen as helping to meet customers’ desire to avoid waiting in lines. The payment app also would give McDonald’s new data that would enhance targeting of offers.

“The demand for mobile order ahead functionality is undeniable,” said Jordan McKee, analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group. “We find that 58 percent of consumers wish more restaurants offered a mobile app for order ahead to skip lines. Consumers are willing to adopt mobile solutions that have a clear use-case and value-proposition. Order ahead certainly fits both criteria.

“Order ahead can be looked at as the thin edge of the wedge for mobile payments,” Mr. McKee said. “It offers a compelling value proposition that can serve as the bridge that moves consumers to an immersive mobile payment experience that wraps loyalty, offers and point of sale payments.”

Pick it, scan it, go

The app description says: “Easy customized ordering is in your hands. Simply download this app, register, pick a participating McDonald’s location in the greater Columbus, GA area, and make your selections. Then stop by the location you choose, scan the QR code in-restaurant or at the curbside pick-up station. Next, submit your payment and your order will be processed. It’s as easy as pick it, scan it, go.”

McDonald’s star U.S. app to date has been its McD App, available in over 2,000 U.S. restaurants. The McD App sends customers offers to redeem with their phone in participating restaurants. It allows them to customize their offer, location and communication preferences, and the offers are sharable with friends and family.


In September, the company’s test of mobile payments in the Austin, TX, area yielded disappointing results. A local mobile consultant cited challenges with convincing consumers to pay via their mobile devices. (See story.)

Varying success

Some QSR chains have had good results with mobile payment apps. In April, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said the coffee giant’s app accounted for 14 percent of its U.S. in-store payments. Chick-fil-A and Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons have also launched mobile payment apps.

McDonald’s is still experimenting.

“McDonald’s mobile payment strategy to date has been akin to spaghetti throwing,” Mr. McKee said. “They continue to try different techniques and initiatives in various markets in hopes something will stick. That’s not all that bad of a strategy given the nascent state of the market and the absence of a true “winning solution.”

“We are still very much in the experimentation stage of mobile payments. I suspect McDonald’s will continue this approach until is sees a promising area to place a large bet.”

Final Take

Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Commerce Daily, New York