Retail

Why The QSR Drive-Thru Is Fueling Retail Innovation

QSR drive-thru

Retail technology is undergoing big changes in the restaurant world, and that includes the drive-thru.

New data via PYMNTS research has troubling news for restaurants with drive-thru windows. Consumers spent an average of 20 seconds longer waiting in the drive-thru lane in 2019 than they did last year. Some brands like McDonald’s are turning to voice recognition technology to keep orders moving. In September, McDonald’s acquired voice technology solutions provider Apprente and plans to use the firm’s technology to integrate into its McD Tech Labs division. The acquisition aims to help McDonald’s improve order-taking operations in its drive-thru facilities by implementing voice-recognition technology to help customers navigate increasingly complex quick-service restaurant (QSR) menus.

Role of Cameras

Cameras are playing a role, too.

The latest development in retail camera use comes from the drive-thru lanes of the fast-food industry, according to the Financial Times. It reported that “fast-food chains are looking to deploy cameras that recognize license plates in order to identify customers, personalize digital menus and speed up sales.” The general idea, of course, it to further personalize the consumer experience and also save customers the trouble of pulling out credit cards or phones to make purchases.

Starbucks, whose use of mobile commerce technology is the source of envy and imitation in the QSR world and the wider retail world, is also involved in this trend. The report stated that the coffee chain has “began trialing such a system in Korea last year, with customers who preregistered their cars, but restaurants in the U.S. are now looking to follow suit.”

Using cameras and software to recognize license plates is nothing new, of course. Police have used such a process for some 40 years, according to various accounts. But recent changes have sparked even more interest and innovation from commerce operators. As the newspaper put it, “as the cost of the software, and of high-quality internet-connected cameras, has come down, the uses of [license plate recognition] have grown.”

Mobile Push

Consumers increasingly rely on mobile for ordering food, and in-car connected services are making this behavior even easier. According to the PYMNTS Commerce Connected Playbook, mobile usage in-car is already common, especially at QSRs: One quarter (25 percent) of drivers are already on their phones when pulling into drive-thru lanes. And ordering food while driving is one of the most common connected activities, per PYMNTS’ Digital Drive Report. More than one-third (35.3 percent) of commuters had ordered food and picked it up at a drive-thru in the past week, while a slightly lower number (33.4 percent) had ordered and picked up coffee the same way.

Most commuters in the Digital Drive Report used voice assistants provided by the auto manufacturer (64.9 percent). Accessing Amazon’s Alexa (13 percent) and Google Assistant (12 percent) through the dashboard were far less popular. But in-dash Google Assistant had a good deal of future interest: 31.9 percent said they would engage in commuter commerce if this option were available.

Just a few months ago, Domino’s announced a partnership with Xevo to launch a pizza-ordering platform via dashboard touchscreen that will be preloaded in cars this year. Domino’s had already enabled in-car ordering with Ford’s Sync AppLink back in 2014.

Pizza chains are often early adopters, partly because consumers are accustomed to ordering pizza by phone instead of while physically at a store. In fact, Pizza Hut’s claim to fame is that it sold its first online order way back in 1994.

There is little doubt that the 2020s will see more retail innovation in the drive-thru lanes.

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