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White Castle misses the mark on mobile ordering without loyalty tie-in

Burger giant White Castle has expanded its mobile ordering initiatives with a new iPhone application, but skips over a bigger opportunity to build in loyalty and rewards.

The quick service restaurant’s new iPhone app builds on the existent Android and Windows Phone ordering apps as well as a Web site. With loyalty playing a bigger role in how marketers lure in repeat app usage, White Castle would likely benefit from more tightly integrating a loyalty program into its app.

“We are looking at a test of a loyalty type of program, but don’t have any specifics at this time,” said Kim Bartley, vice president of marketing and site development at White Castle, Columbus, OH.

Moving beyond only online ordering
Similar to other QSR chains, consumers need to create an account to place a mobile White Castle order. Once an account is set-up, the app leverages a device’s built-in GPS to find nearby stores that can be selected as their favorite location.

The app pulls in the full menus from each White Castle location and can be filtered to show new and limited-time specials.

White Castle’s app is fairly straight-forward and lets consumers select the quantity of items that they want and also includes a text box where consumers can type in special instructions for their meals.

Selecting a pick-up time and payment option is the last step before an order is placed.

To spread the word for the new app, White Castle is running ads within the Pandora iPhone app in conjunction with a promotion for its potato bacon chowder soup.

When consumers click on the ad, they are directed to a landing page to learn more about the new soup product and can click through to download the online ordering app from White Castle’s Web site.

The White Castle mobile ad

Missing a mobile opportunity
Since the app was previously limited to Android and Windows devices, an iPhone app is the logical next step for White Castle.

However, the app’s features are exactly the same as the brand’s online ordering site, and it does not offer consumers any incentives to download and use it besides convenience.

QSRs including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Chick-Fil-A have been paving the way for mobile payments within the vertical over the past year, but all of these chains offer additional features within their branded apps besides basic ordering options.

For example, Chick-Fil-A is piloting an app in six cities that triggers curbside pick-up through check-ins (see story).

McDonald’s is also slowly rolling out a loyalty and deal app across the United States (see story).

Nailing the commerce functionality of mobile payments is only one of the ways that QSRs will win at mobile. Loyalty plays an equal and sometimes bigger role for chains to incentivize frequent in-store foot traffic.

What is interesting about White Castle’s mobile app is that the company has actually invested quite a bit into mobile loyalty outside of the new iPhone app.

In 2012, the chain rolled out the Craver Nation loyalty program via a mobile site that lets diners accumulate points for free sliders (see story).

Additionally, the chain rolled out a customized SMS program with unique coupons last year (see story).

Going forward, White Castle should consider looping a loyalty program into its ordering app to give consumers exclusive perks to interacting with the brand via mobile.

“The future of convenience and mobility centers around the flexibility of our smartphone and tablet devices, so we will continue to integrate them for our guests, especially if they enjoy the option of online ordering,” Ms. Bartley said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York