Why QSRs Need A Commerce Engine — Not A Point Of Sale

Geoff Johnson, chief innovation officer for Bypass

Technology can be a fickle friend. In most sectors today, from retail and restaurants to financial sending and lending, organizations are discovering that they can’t live without it – but if they embrace it too enthusiastically, living with it can be just as bad.

Karen Webster said that executives often have a fear of missing out, which can make them hasty to implement whatever technology they think is the latest and greatest. However, it’s not so great if the company doesn’t have the basics in place to provide a foundation for that new tech – and if they try to implement everything at once, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Geoff Johnson, chief innovation officer for Bypass, said it’s all about holistic alignment.

Those may sound like words from the mouth of a New Age yogi as she hands you a pouch of crystals to bring your chakras into balance. According to Johnson, though, balance is just as important for success in the retail and restaurant industries. Companies must take a measured approach that considers the impact to the whole organization – or risk taking on too much of a good thing.

Johnson said that the plug-and-play point-of-sale (POS) solutions being marketed toward smaller businesses (SMBs) don’t do enough. “Set and forget” is the opposite of what companies should be doing, large or small, he said. Integrating technology should be a thoughtful, strategic endeavor.

Larger companies, by contrast, tend to recognize that they can’t do everything at once, Johnson said. They chart an innovation course that tackles priority projects first, and only when the first endeavor sticks do they begin to implement the next one.

In a recent interview with Karen Webster, Johnson explained why such an incremental approach is the way to go, and why a POS isn’t enough – it takes a commerce engine to drive a business into the future.


Bringing new technology into an established business is no easy feat.

Consider Starbucks: Mobile ordering can be convenient for some, but for those queuing up in the store, or for mobile orders that fail to get ahead of the morning rush, a 10- to 15-minute wait is not unusual. For coffee. It’s no surprise that customers are frustrated over the impact mobile ordering has had on their experience. If Starbucks has struggled, it seems unlikely that anyone can get it right on the first try.

Webster said it’s the same at Au Bon Pain, where she stops for breakfast on the regular. The restaurant has not quite figured out the balance, she said, meaning that mobile orders for lunch are eating away at the servers’ ability to take care of the customers who are right in front of them in the store.

Johnson offered Taco Bell as an example of a QSR that is introducing tech successfully. The Tex-Mex chain got into online ordering and worked to iron out the wrinkles in that technology. Next, it’s introducing kiosks, which will be tested in a small number of stores before rolling out to other locations.

“You need the mechanics, not just the technology,” Johnson said. “It’s not just about whether an order is going to print properly when it comes in so someone can make it. It’s that, and you need to get a message back to the guest about what’s happening, and you need to account for the fact that the guest may not look at those messages – so, what will you do with them if they arrive in 15 minutes, but the order won’t be ready for 30? Are they clogging up the queue for others?”

Johnson said failure to get one’s ducks in a row before implementing tech can keep quick-service restaurants (QSRs) from delivering the value of that tech to customers, thus defeating the purpose of the investment.


Companies can collapse under their own weight when they’re constantly focused on making continual improvements. Johnson said higher levels of the organization would do well to remember how technology components will fit together further down the chain.

It’s great to have online ordering, mobile ordering, kiosks and a loyalty program, but there must also be convenient pathways between those components. Customers ordering via mobile or kiosk must be able to log into their loyalty account and pay using the method of their choice. If something doesn’t work right, how can the customer get help, and how does that workflow affect operations and queues?

“It’s about the operationalization of the technology, not just the components,” Johnson said. “The tech can work perfectly, but if the IT infrastructure can’t measure and support it, especially when multiple partners are involved, it can become a big challenge.”

To that end, Johnson and Bypass urge companies to develop a priority chain. What are they trying to accomplish, and what steps will get them there?


Johnson noted that it can take 12 to 18 months to address an organization’s top three priorities, and he wouldn’t advise biting off more than that or trying to condense the process into, say, nine months instead. Give new initiatives a chance to settle and become the status quo, he urged.

It may be that other goals further down the list become irrelevant, or the overall course of action needs to change based on the outcomes of the first implementations. There’s no point in throwing big budget dollars at projects only to find out they weren’t needed after all, Johnson said.

He shared the story of a recent conversation with one merchant who wanted advice on what technology to implement to move the needle for their company. Johnson advised starting by supporting EMV and digital payment methods. For the immediate future, that’s it. Such a change, he said, would require the merchant to implement new hardware at the point of sale, integrate the pieces, roll it out through the organization and train employees to use the new system.

Johnson said it’s critical that companies keep an eye on their core value proposition, and view technology as a value-add. For QSRs, that means serving the hot, delicious food that customers crave. Existing customers won’t stop coming if the restaurant fails to install self-ordering kiosks, but they might stop coming if it installs kiosks that don’t work well and detract from the user experience.

“It seems easy enough to put them in,” said Johnson, “but if you don’t do it correctly, you waste money and create a bad guest experience. People like your food and come to your restaurant. Don’t screw that up by trying to catch a wave that you aren’t ready to catch yet.”