Subway Gets Fresh With New Tech, But Can It Stop Sales Slump?

Subway has learned the hard way that “eating fresh” just isn’t enough anymore. Diners want to opt into mobile order-ahead on their devices, earn customer loyalty points for doing so and browse WiFi in the store while they eat fresh.

And Subway’s QSR competitors have been delivering that, with traditional fast food chains upgrading their equipment, embracing more natural ingredients and integrating smart technology. Sleek layouts and locally sourced ingredients have lured many luncheoners to competitors like Chipotle and Five Guys, mom and pop stores or the prepared food section of the nearest grocery store.

Can integrating restaurant technology save Subway from its three-year sales slump? The company is game to give it a try.

The “eat fresh” pioneer saw U.S. sales drop 1.7 percent last year to $11.3 billion. It announced earlier in 2017 that it would be closing hundreds of locations and is now testing new restaurant tech, including touchscreen self-ordering kiosks, a new mobile pay app, dedicated pickup areas for mobile orders, digital menu boards and, yes, in-store WiFi.

The plan is to introduce three kiosks at every restaurant location. The mobile app, introduced last month, now lets diners customize their sandwiches ahead of time in 26,000 of the chain’s 27,000 stores. And GrubHub, Postmates or DoorDash delivery may be on the way as Subway tests third-party delivery services on a small scale.

The company thinks the biggest difference will be made by the smartphone app with its mobile order-ahead capability. Less and less do customers want to fumble for a wallet when they already have a phone in their hand that is capable of making payments, if only businesses would accept them.

“Mobile devices are attached at the hip to pretty much all our customers these days,” Carman Wenkoff, Subway’s chief information and digital officer, told Bloomberg. “It’s all about convenience.”


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