No consumer likes to wait in line. And even a restaurateur, who sees a line out the door every night as a symbol of a restaurant's success and popularity, worries that long lines will eventually turn valuable customers away.
Now, with the recent launch of Apple Inc.'s mobile wallet platform Apple Pay, the in-app payment capability is being seized upon as a powerful new way for retailers to reduce lines and wait times by allowing consumers to place orders remotely and pick them up at their convenience. The order-ahead feature can thus have the dual impact of decreasing in-store wait times while also making it a little easier for consumers to navigate their busy lives.
In October 2014, Apple iPhone- and iPad-based mobile POS solution provider NCR Small Business launched remote payment and order-ahead functionality for Apple Pay transactions on its NCR Silver POS system. A merchant-customizable mobile app, Silver Sidewalk, works in tandem with the POS terminal to facilitate orders. The NCR Corp. division, which is focused on supplying small and midsize businesses with mobile payment solutions, is making the order-ahead service available free to merchants until Jan. 1, 2015.
"There's been a lot of innovation in the food service – and to some extent in the retail and e-commerce space – for order and pick-up," said Justin Hotard, President at NCR Small Business. "We think it's a great opportunity. We've heard from our merchants in the food service space that it's really about skipping the line."
Order-ahead functionality seems especially appropriate for take-out businesses like pizza kitchens, certain restaurants and coffee shops, food trucks, and speciality food retailers – types of retailers that the Atlanta-based merchant service provider specializes in. One NCR Small Business client is Peterbrooke Chocolatier, which is based in Jacksonvile, Fla., and operates 23 stores in the southern United States. The chocolate purveyor was one of the mobile-POS provider's first customers to go live with order-ahead.
"They have a pretty large assortment of grab-and-go gifts," Hotard said. "What they found is that a fair number of their customers will come in and grab a box of chocolates as a gift or [for] an event. They kind of know what they want. And they want to just come in and grab and go. If they can order it on their phone on their way in, that's a huge convenience for them. It reduces that friction."
With Apple Pay, Peterbrooke doesn't have to enroll the customer in a loyalty program upfront or maintain its own proprietary mobile app via which customers load their bankcard data. "I don't shop at Peterbrooke's five times a week," Hotard said. "It's not the place I go everyday. I don't know if I'd actually want to put my credit card into their application. But if Apple Pay has already got my credentials, I can just use that to pay. [Customers are] much more likely to use their app."
NCR Small Business teamed with Jacksonville-based app developer iMobile3 LLC to build the Silver Sidewalk mobile app designed to facilitate mobile order-ahead transactions. "Our merchants don't have to go through the hassle of working with us to create their own application," Hotard said. The app provides store inventory and pricing, as well as a menu for food purveyors. And the app is integrated into Apple's Passbook, where bankcards and loyalty cards are stored on Apple devices.
When a customer launches Silver Sidewalk and pays for something online, the order is processed through the NCR Silver POS iPad terminal, and in-store pick-up is as seamless as possible. "When that order is pulled up, there's a verbal confirmation that occurs between the employee and the customer," Hotard said. "There are certainly other things that we can do. But today it's a verbal confirmation."
All types of service providers are launching order-ahead applications. In March 2014, PayPal Inc. went live with order-ahead in the United Kingdom. The Starbucks Coffee Co. said it would begin testing its own version in its hometown of Portland, Ore., before the end of 2014 and launch the service nationally sometime in 2015. And quick service restaurant chain McDonald's launched the order-ahead Mac App in Austria in May 2014.
Also last May, Square Inc. unveiled Square Order and has been busy adding functionality to the app. Its latest addition is an arrival prediction feature that automatically calculates the time it will take for a customer placing a mobile order to arrive at the store for pick-up. Timing, of course, is everything when you order a latte ahead of time, you want it to be hot when you pick it up.
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