Exit41 Wednesday plans to launch an online service for restaurants that lets consumers order food through Facebook. The application lets consumers share and "Like" their favorite menu items within their social network. It lets marketers understand more than transactions -- rather, the people who frequent their restaurants.
Wow Bao, a three-chain restaurant based in the Chicago area, began working with Exit41 in early 2009 to create an online ordering platform that not only provides ingredients, but also allergy information on foods served. Then in August the two began working on integrating the ordering system in Facebook. "I don't think Web sites will go away any time soon, but they are definitely deteriorating in importance," says Geoff Alexander, managing partner at Wow Bao. "Companies use Facebook more than their Web sites because it allows them to have a conversation with consumers."
Alexander says a good Web site will cost between $20,000 and $30,000, but he can create a good Facebook page for almost nothing. Web sites create one-way communications, but Facebook fosters the two-way conversation.
So consumers can now go to Wow Bao's Facebook page and click on the tab "Order Online" for food pickup or ship somewhere else. Consumers also can "like" items. Alexander says since the Facebook online ordering system went live two months ago, sales through the Web increased about 10%.
Aside from Facebook, Wow Bao taps social media on Twitter and Foursquare. Real-time search has pulled in public posts and tweets in query results on engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Aside from the online order tab, the Exit41 platform features an online application that lets consumers share information on popular menu items through the Like button. Likes are posted to the consumer's profile page and into their social stream, featuring a menu item image and description along with a link back to the restaurant's site. The platform also supports a mobile iPhone application for the restaurant that features a location-based tool to help consumers find the closest restaurant as well as secure mobile payment to make ordering easier.
Famous Dave's, Lettuce Entertain You, Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, Hello Pasta and Silver Diner, among others, also launched the Facebook and mobile applications. Maybe that's because the Exit41 platform identifies behavioral pattern that allow the restaurant to interact with the consumer based on location. The patterns are only connected to the transactions, not the person, according to Joseph Gagnon, chief executive officer, Exit41. "We see more future orders are places than ASAP orders because people trust that the order is stored and recalled," he says. "We also see more orders for groups of people."
New behaviors continue to emerge through online ordering. Gagnon says the average check is three times higher online, compared with those placed in the restaurant. Consumers tend to purchase more when companies can put the menu electronically in front of them while in places where they might not typically have access to them.
I agree that the dynamics are changing when it comes to marketing and sales on a web site. Facebook is proving more and more to be a very powerful too for both. I also see where mobile is a crucial piece to any businesses marketing puzzle. However, I still think it is important to have your marketing hub be something that you own and control completely, like your website. We don't know what Facebook is going to "update" from day to day. So, I think it is very important to keep a strong and central hub alive and well using your website and mobile communications. The other options, like Facebook, are tools to support a greater marketing plan. My two cents.