Why retailers cannot ignore McDonald’s’ touchscreen innovation

Why retailers cannot ignore McDonald’s’ touchscreen innovation

Replacing staff with touchscreen technology at the point of sale hasn’t made the experience less personal for McDonald’s customers – it’s delivering better consumer value than ever before, and high-street counterparts could learn a lot from it.

McDonald’s rarely gets things wrong, and its continued success proves it. While it constantly sets the bar for fast-food, its most recent technological adjustments could raise the stakes for the high street as a whole.

The company has always quickly responded to the changing tastes of its customers. From its “grown-up” redesign of European outlets (a strategy since adapted by competitors such as Greggs), to the expansion of its healthy food range (a strategy since adapted by competitors such as Greggs), its decisions have maintained its high-street, fast-food dominance despite there being more competition than ever before, and at a time when consumers are more impatient than ever.

Over the last couple of years, McDonald’s has rolled out Evoke’s touchscreen ordering system at an alarming rate. Cynically, it can be seen as a shrewd move, given it lowers demand for point-of-sale staff and could drop the wage bill significantly. However, McDonald’s has demonstrated how the facelessness of technology does not replace the faces of its staff – instead, it can complement and enhance the consumer experience, responding to a greater demand for personalised service using more suitably modern tech.

The introduction of touchscreen ordering will undoubtedly become a norm in fast food, but retailers in other markets need to take notice of the possibilities this specific development could have for their own high-street presence – so long as they use it correctly.

Temptation stations

McDonald’s makes changes that make it more profitable, and touchscreen ordering systems are no exception. As identified by Brandon Weber of Big Think, the company may see sales rise by over 5% in the first year of the tech’s rollout. While McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook attributed this to dwell time in front of the screen, Weber cited a 2017 study that asserted how the “physical experience of touching products – even on screen – increased the likelihood that a consumer would make a ‘hedonic’ purchase”.

Nothing screams

What retailers can learn from this: By opening a touchscreen channel, you provide customers with a middle ground between online browsing and in-store exploration. While the technology itself is another means of enabling sales, its clever use within your store – such as combining it with a stock check facility, an item finder or an ordering form – you can provide a customised service at a key location in your store, encouraging more footfall and product exploration to an increasingly technologically-minded consumer.

Complementary ordering

It’s no surprise that a fast-food restaurant inspires hedonistic tendencies in its customers by giving them easier technology to order from. But it’s not all down to self-led temptation – McDonald’s follows the standards set by Amazon and friends by recommending complementary dishes, such as sides and desserts. It’s simple yet effective upselling, and the removal of face-to-face ordering only makes the decision more guiltless.

What retailers can learn from this: It’s not too difficult to inspire a customer to buy something related to a searched product (e.g. the correct cable to go with electronic goods) – but it’s easy to take this concept a step further by analysing wider purchasing trends. For example, fashion retailers can use touchscreen ordering outside of changing rooms to promote a wider set of clothing, potentially tailored to the shopper’s tastes, size or outfit purpose, based on recommendations set by either stylists or an AI system which analyses other shoppers’ paired purchases.

And just like McDonald’s, businesses can take this one step further by putting point-of-service staff in a more positive, personal role than the dreaded, shopper-bothering “is everything OK?” approach.

Repurposing and enhancing the role of staff

Weber also noted how McDonald’s staunchly defended its introduction of touchscreens by claiming they allowed staff to better serve customers – not replace them. This is largely down to its table service option: after ordering your food, you can now pick up a plastic table number and have someone deliver the food to your table – effectively aligning it closer to Nando’s than Burger King. While POS staff still exist, this bonus means customers can now sit and wait, as opposed to getting a ticket, aimlessly standing and grumbling to oneself – or engaging in the 2am bunfight of climbing over tired and emotional people trying to get served.

One of the best bonuses with the McDonald's touchscreen is the table service that comes with it.

What retailers can learn from this: Businesses cannot afford to use touchscreens to replace staff, as consumers are now crying out for the personal touch, alongside more convenience. Workers can complement touchscreen technology in fashion stores, for example, by acting as personal helpers or even stylists, fetching alternative or complementary outfit options for those in changing rooms to try on. As well as keeping people in store, it showcases the benefits of ecommerce-style technology with a service customers couldn’t possibly get at home.

And as we discuss in our 2018 Fashion Analysis in our first-ever Retail Experience Score, demand is higher than ever for click and collect; retailers already need to use staff better to offer a faster and more accurate stock-led service, so they can be reassigned to meet this demand and help drive footfall further.

Accessibility for all

While this benefit may be overlooked by the average consumer, McDonald’s is also making orders easier for those who don’t feel comfortable with human interaction. Whether helping people with experience of mental health issues to those who are introverted or just someone who personally prefers the tech, the ability to order on a screen breaks down another boundary for countless consumers.

What retailers can learn from this: Aside from the obvious benefit of being more inclusive, touchscreens can be adapted to other environments with ease. Retail, unlike fast food, can often be notorious for its high-pressure sales tactics. Factoring in this system will help people discover the products they want at their own pace, while a complementary personal helper service can work with it, if required. Additionally, the likes of clothing shops – where people may not be comfortable asking for a certain size – can be better catered to if they request an item to try on, before finding these sizes hanging up for them in a dressing room.

Touchscreens make the desires of customers a reality - so long as you use them properly.

What you want without the pressure

As with coffee shops, fast-food outlets offer increased customisation with pretty much everything they sell, satisfying different budgets, appetites and health concerns. Personalisation through touchscreens represents the easiest means of doing this, not least because people often don’t know what options are open to them at the counter; the technology also stops someone rushing an order because they’re at the front of a queue of hungry consumers. This opportunity for detailed personalisation wins customers back – they get what they want, how they want it, and can take their time to switch things up if the mood takes them.

What retailers can learn from this: The ability to explore, compare and customise purchases with touchscreens could be hugely impactful for a number of retail sectors. Electronics sellers in particular could benefit, given the huge choice available for major purchases, notably laptops and mobile phones. Customers looking for either of these know that they will commit to their choice for a minimum of two years, so high-pressure face-to-face sales can be intimidating for many, especially if the member of staff securing the contract looks for upselling opportunities.

If touchscreens were more prevalent in electrical retailers, customers could take their time to browse aesthetic options like colour, but also explore the benefits of performance issues such as memory, data, screen size, and more. The addition of comparison tables, similar to those offered online by the likes of GSMArena.com, could not only help the customer, but actively get them in store to compare models, test them in store, and get human input when they want it. They can be in charge of their purchase from start to finish, imbued by expertise offered by the store in question.

Tailored correctly, touchscreens can and will enhance retail experiences, and could reposition staff doing what customers want, and in a way that’s much more comfortable for them.

Showcasing more in store

It’s as simple as it is effective: touchscreens, when not helping people order their food, show video advertisements for other McDonald’s products when not in use. It means no opportunity to sell is wasted – and new products, sales or underselling stock can be prioritised at the touch of a button.

What retailers can learn from this: Advertising is part and parcel of any store, from window displays to end-of-aisle promotional shots. Replacing these often-static set-ups with eye-catching moving ads – which can transform into interactive hubs at the touch of a button – can offer the best of both worlds in most, if not all, retail environments.

Customers are lovin’ it

Tailored correctly, touchscreens can and will enhance retail experiences, and could reposition staff doing what customers want, and in a way that’s much more comfortable for them. McDonald’s has committed to the technology for the future and while it already looks like it’ll spell great success for the fast-food giant, the blueprint it follows is one that can be easily followed by even the newest retailers taking their place on the high street.

While real success for this technology requires many cornerstones of omnichannel excellence to work properly – specifically accurate stock check, intelligent upselling and (even limited) personalisation – touchscreens could pave the way for bigger and more responsive tech. It’s just surprising that so few businesses still haven’t considered its vast array of benefits yet.

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