Mobile order-ahead can have varying impacts on each restaurant that adopts the technology. Some — like IHOP — experienced increased order sizes from customers using their app, while others — like Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies — reported more customers taking advantage of customization options when ordering ahead.
For coffee chains, though, customers often have a go-to drink and don’t take time to consider the various menu options, try out new customizations or buy extra to save for later, like they might with other restaurants. That’s why, when it comes to introducing and evolving its order-ahead service, Dunkin’ Donuts has found success in helping repeat customers get their “usual” more quickly — by helping them skip the line. Over the past four years, the company has dedicated time, energy and technology to make this happen.
In a recent conversation with PYMNTS, Stephanie Meltzer-Paul, Dunkin’s VP of digital and loyalty marketing, reflected on how the service has evolved since its 2014 launch. She said the company has tried to provide a faster, smoother experience to its existing and expanding base of loyal members in an effort to enhance those relationships.
“[For] most of our members … it’s very habitual. They love to order from their favorites,” Meltzer-Paul said. “They’re coming in every day and tend to buy the same things.”
Reeling In Regulars
Unlike many quick-service restaurants (QSRs), coffee chains tend to have a crowd of regulars who get their favorite coffees and donuts multiple times a week — or maybe even every day. Serving that habitual order became a central focus for Dunkin’s mobile approach.
Dunkin’s mobile ordering app is exclusive to members of the company’s loyalty program, a choice aimed at enabling a smoother launch of the service. The app was rolled out to an audience already accustomed to apps-based payments from their experience paying with the mobile loyalty app. This meant Dunkin’ had less work to do in explaining how to use the technology. It also let the company leverage its understanding of these customers’ purchasing habits when considering what promotions would be best for cross- or upselling products with the new service, Meltzer-Paul explained.
“It made sense to work off that universe of customers — they were already much more digitally savvy,” she said.
Still, not all loyalty members readily latched onto the service. To help encourage adoption, the coffee giant uses promotions to sweeten the deal — for instance, by offering doubled rewards points to those who mobile order on certain days of the week.
Order, Pick Up, Repeat
As Dunkin’ Donuts targets regular customers, who are likely to have a routine order, emphasizing capabilities for quickly placing saved orders has become a key factor in its adoption of new technologies. This has helped pave the way for Dunkin’ to offer order-by-voice technology through Google Assistant, allowing it to skirt common frictions associated with such services.
For example, Meltzer-Paul noted, one challenge with voice ordering is ensuring that the technology can correctly parse the spoken order, and that the process does not become a lengthy ordeal where the customer has to repeatedly correct and confirm the order. In an attempt to avoid such issues, Dunkin’ restricts the voice service to only placing repeat orders — something that works well with a demographic that tends to purchase the same set of items.
“There’s less friction in terms of making sure the order is not going to get messed up,” Meltzer-Paul said. “When you’re using voice, you don’t want much back and forth, because that takes the speed out of it. We don’t want to lose the essence and heart of what this is all about.”
As it works to hone the ability to power faster re-ordering and considers new approaches, Dunkin’ Donuts is eyeing the goal of “one-click” ordering, in which customers could open the app and hit one button on their home screen to place a recent order. Customization options and menu browsing would be found on different in-app screens, making the ordering process easier for customers who wish to make expedited, repeat orders.
Another potential future capability would be enabling customers to automatically send an order to their chosen Dunkin’ store at a particular time every day. For example, customers who get off at the same subway stop at the same time each day for work, and stop by the same Dunkin’ store to collect the same order, removing the need to even open the app could be especially appealing, Meltzer-Paul said.
Helping America Run — Not Wait — On Dunkin’
Serving the need for speed takes some adjustments to in-store operations.
To avoid a backlog of orders, the company designates a team of staff at each store to fulfill order-ahead purchases. Stores adjust the number of designated staff based on their historic level of order-ahead demand at varying times of day. While some QSRs manage order influxes by having customers set pick-up times when placing an in-app order, Dunkin’s items are intended to take a short time to prepare, so little to no advanced notice is required, Meltzer-Paul claimed.
“We know most of our members, from the time they are ordering, are ready to pick up in less than 10 minutes. And we can turn around an order … in minutes or seconds,” she said. “We don’t need 15, 20 or 30 minutes to set up an order.”
The company has also worked to improve its customer-facing in-store design, along with app options, to avoid pick-up chaos. So far, this has included efforts such as next-generation stores with drive-through lanes designated for mobile-order pickup, and recent app updates to provide the same level of customization as available in-store. Order customization is an important feature, Meltzer-Paul said, because it prevents customers from piling up to ask staff to make adjustments, like adding flavor swirls or sugar.
Offering pick-up modifications beforehand may also come in handy for coffee shops that provide milk and sugar stations, as it can prevent order-ahead customers from swarming stations to modify their drinks.
Flexible Ordering Habits
Making all in-store customization options available in the mobile app is important for more reasons than just quicker order pickup, Meltzer-Paul noted.
Stores need to ensure a level of continuity between online and offline customer experiences, or risk confusing customers who expect to be able to move back and forth smoothly between the two services. Dunkin’ Donuts has discovered that even customers who enjoy mobile ordering don’t use it exclusively, but rather treat it as a useful option. According to Meltzer-Paul, 80 percent of Dunkin’ customers who try the on-the-go ordering feature use it again, but many of them seem to switch between using it and ordering in-store, depending on their mood and how much of a rush they’re in.
“It’s all about providing choice. We have members that feel like, ‘Today, I don’t need on-the-go mobile ordering. I like to come in and talk to the crew; they really know me.’ They want that personal one-to-one service. We [also have customers] who feel like, ‘The drive-through is already quick enough for me,’” she said. “We find they switch on and off, depending on what’s going on in their life.”
As Dunkin’ brews up new offerings, it’s exploring ways to give repeat customers even more options for how they buy, including potential expansion of ordering to additional platforms. Above all, it will look to make convenience and skip-the-line speed as much of a menu fixture as iced coffee and Munchkins®.
When it comes to their daily coffee, customers already know what they want, and all that’s left for companies is to get it to them as conveniently as possible — maybe with a side of donuts.