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Wendy’s cooks up new mobile app, self-order kiosks to drive sales

The Wendy’s Company is starting off 2016 with a competitive edge by testing in-restaurant beacon technology, a new mobile application and self-service kiosks, pointing to how quick-service chains must evolve to stay with the times.

The fast-food chain has been testing a number of new mobile-first initiatives at its labs in Columbus, OH, as well as in select restaurants. Wendy’s fans can expect to see the new 2.0 app roll out sometime later this year, while store employees can anticipate a region-by-region introduction of beacon technology to augment the brand’s mobile ordering tests.

“In order for a brand to stay relevant, it must stay with the times,” said Joshua Keller, CEO of Union Square Media, New York. “Since consumers today are addicted to their handheld devices, why not cater to that, rather than making them leave that environment?”

Consolidating tasks
In Wendy’s annual investor conference, its chief information officer, David Trimm, revealed that the first half of 2016 will be spent focusing on maximizing operations and production, especially in regards to the self-service kiosks. They are projected to become available for public use in the latter half of the year.

This strategy will likely resonate well with Wendy’s customers, particularly those who are strapped for time and want to dart in and out of a restaurant quickly.

The proliferation of kiosks in airports and bank branches has made consumers accustomed to using machines for self-service actions.

“Why not let the customer order what they want, exactly how they like, without having a human translate it into a computer?” Mr. Keller said. “In any business, tasks that can be automated and don’t require the human touch, should be.”

Additionally, the brand is planning to introduce its full Wendy’s 2.0 mobile app to customers this year. It will consolidate three separate apps that were previously in pilot mode – for ordering, loyalty and payment purposes, respectively – into one singular digital destination.

Wendy’s initially sought to pull mobile-savvy consumers away from its fast food competitors by testing a mobile ordering app in Phoenix last summer and offering users a Frosty incentive (see story).

Users will be able to customize orders to their exact liking and receive nutritional information regarding that particular meal.

The chain is also hoping to phase out physical coupons with their mobile counterparts. Wendy’s will likely use data from the app to more effectively target users with relevant deals. For example, consumers who typically purchase burgers will receive burger coupons, while salad fans will earn promotions for those meals instead.

These functionalities have been live in some markets already, but 2016 will mark the first time they are brought together for customers in a streamlined manner.

Last summer, Wendy’s saw an opportunity to add personalized offers and national coupons to its mobile ordering and payments experience, underscoring the growing convergence between leveraging mobile to build customer loyalty and drive added convenience (see story).

Mobile ordering is set to be rolled out regionally as the year progresses, placing Wendy’s behind some of its competitors in terms of early adoption. However, the brand’s dedication to providing a one-stop mobile shop for all things Wendy’s will likely earn a few brownie points among consumers.

Firing up beacons
Perhaps most notably, Wendy’s will be including beacon technology in the mobile ordering launch. The beacons are purported to alert restaurants when a consumer who purchased a meal arrives in-store, so that employees can ensure the order’s freshness.

This strategy could certainly be a game-changer for the food and beverage industry, as one of consumers’ biggest concerns regarding ordering ahead is the meal’s lack of freshness.

Wendy’s reportedly wants to activate beacons in all of its restaurants nationwide. Although this may take awhile, it would drive in-store traffic higher, potentially by piquing non-regular customers’ interest.

“Anything that will make the business more efficient and increase customer satisfaction, should be the focal point,” Mr. Keller said. “We know that the food is only so good, so it’s really the price and the experience that set these chains apart.

“It’s not any different than the goal in which McDonald’s had when it put the playgrounds in – it attracts customers and improves their satisfaction with the brand.”