The Post-COVID Future of Quick Service and Fast Casual Restaurants

As we start to think about life in a post-COVID world, one of the main questions is what part of our revamped lifestyles are here to stay? Financial crises, natural disasters, and societal developments always lead to innovation and transformation, and COVID-19 is no different. Among the trends that will be long-lasting is the shift away from touch-based interactions toward touchless ones. We believe that the future is touchless everything.

In the quick-serve restaurant (QSR) industry, touchless everything means the whole experience from ordering, menus, payment, drive-thru and pickup. As dining in has been limited, the demand for drive-thru and pickup has increased exponentially. Increased demand, though, has its downsides. Long lines mean poor customer experience and lost sales opportunities as drivers may be deterred from waiting.

In fact, according to one study, the use of digital menu boards, which shaves off 12.3 seconds of throughput, can result in nearly $28,000 in savings per location, equating to hundreds of millions of dollars for large QSRs. The reverse is true in an industry that saw wait times increase by nearly 30 seconds across the board. This means that digital innovation is key to removing friction from the ordering, payment, and pickup interactions so brands can serve more customers, faster and safer.

In addition to digital menus, the use of mobile technologies paired with biometrics provide other opportunities for improved customer experiences. For example, with facial recognition, a guest may simply drive-up to the digital menu and be automatically identified to gain access to personalized special offers, recall a previous order, redeem loyalty rewards and make a payment. This saves time and gives the customer the type of experience that drives incremental sales and creates strong brand loyalty.

Creating Wow Experiences with Facial Recognition

The NEC I:Delight platform is specially designed to create these wow experiences. Adding the I:Delight platform to new or existing apps is simple. Users can easily register by taking a quick selfie for their online profile to create a Digital ID. Once registered, they can simply log-in to the mobile app with their face, or in store at a kiosk, to place an order and approve payment using their secure Digital ID. If a guest is picking up their order in-person, a simple glance at a tablet can alert staff that they have arrived to ensure they receive their order quickly and safely.

Drive-Thru Ordering and Payment

The NEC I:Delight platform can also be incorporated at the drive-thru for enhanced, personalized service and operational efficiency. When a customer pulls-up to the drive-thru, the platform recognizes their Digital ID and alerts staff to the customer’s arrival. Stored preferences and targeted promotions appear on the digital menu screen, and staff can greet the customer by name. If a payment method is saved in the customer’s loyalty account, face verification or a saved PIN is all that is needed to complete the transaction.

According to a recent study commissioned by the Kellogg School of Management, Columbia Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School, every 7 seconds saved in drive-thru wait times equates to about 1 percent increase in sales. This makes both the customer experience and business value benefit of the NEC I:Delight platform hard to overstate:

  • Increases throughput of customers with a more personalized experience.
  • Easily monitors customer purchasing behaviors to better anticipate customer needs and offer targeted promotions.
  • Brings up pre-order or previous order for faster transactions times, minimizing the time for order customizations.
  • Offers seamless, contactless payments for a faster and safer experience.

NEC is a trusted leader in facial recognition, ranked number one in biometric innovation by NIST for five consecutive years. With over 1,000 deployments in 70 countries around the world and $2.6 billion invested annually in research and development, NEC is the preferred partner for fast-casual restaurants looking for facial recognition-enabled solutions for an enhanced customer experience.

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Retailers Need to Focus on Point-of-Service over Point-of-Sale for More Personalized Shopping Experiences

Online retailers are offering consumers a personalized shopping experience. As Americans desire fast turnaround and convenience, traditional retailers have an opportunity to beat out digital retail stores that require a day or two for delivery. If the in-person experience can fulfill the same needs, and the physical reward is instant, will a reinvention of the in-store concept lead to less empty stores?

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Is it possible to offer a personalized shopping experience with point-of-service over point-of-sale?

75% of consumers prefer shopping in person. #cx Click To Tweet

Traditional Retailers Are Feeling the Pain

Daily news mentions of brick and mortar retailer layoffs or store closings are not uncommon these days. Bloomberg estimates that traditional retailers are on a record pace for closings or bankruptcy in 2017. Shopping malls across the nation are left with empty storefronts and soon-to-be-empty halls if they are unable to convert the space to other uses.

Meanwhile, U.S. retail sales continue to rise and consumer spending is expected to grow, as gas prices remain relatively low. Cowen and Company retail research shows that high-end malls are still faring well and 75% of consumers prefer shopping in person. The key is to create an experience that is much like online retailers: personal and customer-focused.

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Clicks and Bricks

Online and omnichannel innovator, Amazon, ensures a hyper-personalized shopping experience and customer journey. For each loyal customer, Amazon knows what kind of computer the shopper owns, which hobbies, music, and books have been enjoyed on past visits.

NEC empowers retailers to “Know Your Customer” similar to Amazon. At NRF this year, we debuted our facial payment solution, which allows registered shoppers to pay for their products with their face. No cash, checks or cards are necessary!

Reinventing the In-Store Experience

Brick and mortar retailers have another opportunity to attract consumers with the same personalized shopping experience offered by online retailers, including instant gratification rather than the delay that comes with shipping.

POS systems, once the only interaction when making a purchase, must now be modernized to enhance in-store customer encounters with the business. Inventory must be instantly tracked and replenished and the supply chain must be efficient to keep up. Infrastructure and applications need to be agile enough to withstand changes, updates all while the company stays up, and running 24 hours a day.

Learn about NEC’s POS Hardware and POS Software solutions to boost productivity and enhance customer service.

Point-of-Service in Action

By analyzing shopper preferences, a store suggesting complementary items through digital signage could increase sales during the customer visit. NEC has collaborated with Brierley+Partners to provide seamless loyalty and CRM capabilities using NEC’s facial recognition technology and Brierley’s robust CRM platform hosted Microsoft Azure Cloud.

Before arriving in the store, it’s likely that the customer may have already shopped for an item online. If the retailer has this information, the store can offer loyalty points, highlight coupons, offer education or entertainment around the item or similar items so the customer is drawn back and stays longer. Staying “in store” is just as important as staying “on page” on a website.

In-Store Shopping Isn’t Dead

While online shopping is increasing, a majority of shoppers are still walking into brick and mortar retailers. The challenge facing retailers is that shoppers are expecting a different experience. If retailers already have the data and the POS hardware, the next step is reinvention. Analyze the data. Make the information usable to create customized, personal, and creative experiences for the customer. Customers want to be loyal. Shouldn’t retailers make it easier for them?

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