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KFC Discovers That Mobile Isn’t Nice. It’s Essential

Written by Evan Schuman
March 11th, 2013

When global chicken fast-food chain KFC launched a major mobile test in the U.K. this month, it has had to learn to deal with realities that are very different than its more mobile-famous corporate brother, Pizza Hut. Although the two chains are both owned by Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM)—along with Taco Bell—the mobile similarities pretty much end there. Some 40 percent of the pizza online orders come from desktops and laptops, with the remainder from mobile.

At KFC, the mobile percentage is expected to be much higher. That’s because people typically want pizza delivered to their home or office, whereas a bucket of wings is picked up—after having been ordered from someone driving or walking near the store. (KFC in the U.K. does not deliver.) Pizzas also take longer to cook—compared with preparing already-cooked chicken parts—making the “order and have it waiting for you” model ineffective for KFC. Instead, KFC UK will soon add a geolocation function (likely to be launched in May), so the app knows when the customer is truly right by the restaurant and can ask the customer if the order can be prepared.

Unlike other phone-ahead mobile apps, where the store gets a valuable heads up as to what the demand will likely be hours into the future, KFC’s kitchen and other associates aren’t even aware that any mobile orders (called KFC Fast Track) have been processed. That’s true until the customer walks up to a small mobile kiosk in KFC (one that is situated far from the long lines of rush-hour diners) and scans in a QR code displayed on the mobile screen, said KFC UK IT Director Paul Borrett.

“The last thing anyone wants is to prepare the food and have it sitting there, waiting,” he said. “Our customers expect their chicken to be fresh and hot every time, so our mobile ordering had to help us deliver on this.”

The advantage to the customer? Avoidance of the long lines to place an order. The advantage to KFC? It takes that much of the load off order-taking store associates and—critically—delivers an extra-large bucket full of CRM insights.

Part of the value of being in a QSR conglomerate is being able to learn from the trials—the mistakes—of others. A KFC Australia trial recently explored letting customers select ordering times, so the restaurant can plan ahead. In short, it didn’t work.

“All that happened was that the customer got there early and the food wasn’t ready. Or the opposite and their food is getting cold,” Borrett said, adding that some managers then felt the need to throw the food out and prepare new hot food, which delays the customer even more. “There are a lot of issues with preset times. What if you’re stuck in traffic or traffic is lighter than you thought?”


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4 Comments | Read KFC Discovers That Mobile Isn’t Nice. It’s Essential

  1. ed Says:

    Implementing geolocation is not the best answer, geolocation is an assumption about the mobile user availability.

    What if the mobile user had to stop on the way and help walk a senior citizen across the street? Will KFC be able to know this incident occurred in their “timing” of customer arrival?

    What about being honest about availability and the simply informing the mobile user of the process? UPS, Fedex and Dell computer send the mobile user a current status of their order and keep the mobile user engaged. I know when Dell is assembling my computer, when they packaged it and FedEx is telling me when it left their facilities on the truck and I’m engaged as a consumer to this live feed of data.

    So wouldn’t it be better than KFC trying to use geolocation to just inform the mobile user they started preparation of the food and give them an estimate as a personalized message? Then the mobile user can reply and create a geniune two-way conversation instead of trying to snoop in on their geo-location position?!

  2. Paul Says:

    Ed, the plan with the geolocation feature will be to give the customer a notification when they get within a certain distance of the store – likely a 1-2 mins walk away – and them ask them what they’d like us to do.

    The customer can either give the go ahead to start final packing of the order, or alternatively they can simply wait until they arrive at the store and we’ll start the packing process then.

    We’re definitely not looking to snoop on the location of customers or make assumptions that they are coming directly to the store, simply trying to find ways for them to get their food as quickly as possible by giving them the option to trigger the final stage of the process. As you’d imagine, the notification feature can be deselected if required.

  3. ed Says:

    Paul, thanks for the clarification. I was thinking cautiously along the lines of a consumer mobile device constantly polled for their current longitude/latitude position creating a breadcrumb trail.

    If the consumer have a choice to disable the tracking, then it would alleviate some of the privacy concerns of feeling tracked.

  4. Paul Says:

    No problem Ed. We have no intention of tracking any data from the mobile device, and are very much aware of privacy concerns in this area. The intent is to use a standard geofence around the store where an order has been placed, and when the customer crosses the fence they will receive the notification / question.

    I’ll come back and post an update here when we have the geofence update in place.

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