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Panera customizes take-out ordering experience via mobile

With up to 45 percent of its orders to-go, Panera is planning the chain-wide roll-out of a mobile ordering system designed to help take-out customers quickly get in and out of the restaurant with their food.

Panera is looking to position itself to better meet customers’ changing needs, recognizig that chains such as Papa John’s are reporting close to 50 percent of orders coming in through digital channels. The mobile ordering program is based on a key customer insight that the business is made up of two distinct segments – those who eat in the restaurants and those who order a meal for take-out.

“Panera Bread, and quick service restaurants similar to them, are seeing tremendous value from being able to better service their loyal customers by offering mobile payment and rewards programs through their white label applications,” said Nathalie Reinelt, San Francisco-based analyst at Aite Group.

“Mobile ordering, which allows Panera Bread customers to pay for their Rapid Pick-Up order via the app, streamlines the customer experience, which is hugely beneficial to both consumers and restaurants alike during peak hours,” she said.

Ms. Reinelt is not affiliated with Panera. She spoke based on her expertise on the subject.

Panera declined to comment for this story.

Rapid Pick-Up
Until now, all customers have been treated the same during the order and pick-up process. However, Panera saw a need to develop a separate process that meets the specific needs of take-out customers.

Customers will be able to place an order before arriving via Panera’s mobile app or on desktop and select a pick-up time. Upon arriving at a Panera location, customers go to a designated area to pick up their orders.

The Rapid Pick-Up program is part of strategic plan designed to enhance the customer experience at Panera that also includes upgraded operational capabilities, which is being called “Panera 2.0” by the company.

The Rapid Pick-Up service is currently available in Minneapolis, Boston and Charlotte, NC, and is expected to become available in additional locations soon. The goal is to have it in 100 locations by the end of this year and all locations by 2016.

The chain began testing the program in 2011.

Loyalty integration
To use Rapid Pick-Up from the app, users select their items and pay for their order right from the app. Users can also earn and redeem MyPanera loyalty points.

Orders will be prepared while customers are in route. At the designated pick-up area, a monitor gives customers the status of their orders.

Restaurants also feature touch-screen kiosks where customers can place orders either to-go or to eat in the restaurant.

Panera locations that already have the new ordering system in place are seeing 20 to 30 percent of orders come in digitally, according to reports. Additionally, locations in Boston that have had the new ordering system in place for 12 to 18 months are leading the company in same-store sales, with customers who use Rapid Pick-Up visiting more frequently.

The chain has also reportedly doubled the size of its IT team to support the new ordering program.

“While mobile ordering isn’t a must have for public restaurant chains yet, it is certainly an easy integration to include in their mobile offering and as more restaurants offer this feature, consumer expectations of the industry as a whole will follow suit,” Ms. Reinelt said.

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