Mobilizing Big Macs: McDonald's Testing Mobile Ordering

McDonald’s is hoping to use mobile platforms to shorten the wait for that Quarter Pounder and fries. According to a report at, the company is testing an app that allows customers to order and pay before arriving at the local shop. Food can be picked up at the drive-thru or perhaps even curbside pick-up. The test is going on in Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas stores, McDonald's confirmed to Bloomberg.

Notes from a June business meeting for McDonald’s reveal that the app will provide for pre-ordering and live pick-up but will also include loyalty programs, promotions and special offers to incentivize return business.

The concept of app-based fast-food ordering is not new with McDonald’s. My Chipotle app has been doing this for a while, and of course an entire mobile ordering infrastructure has already been layered atop the online reservations platforms. I have been getting my Five Guys orders filled via mobile app for well over a year now.



Still, the addition of the largest fast-food chain to the mobile ordering mix only adds to the momentum around the specific practice of food purchases as well as mobile payments altogether.

McDonald’s, on the other hand, says it is promising to move the ball forward. In the notes from the June meeting obtained by Bloomberg, they claim: ”While many competitors are publicizing their efforts to get an initial foothold in the mobile arena, no one has developed a comprehensive solution that integrates the opportunities this technology presents.” I am not sure what that means, really. But it can be said that few of the mobile ordering apps I have used, like Chipotle’s, are aggressively pushing offers or loyalty programs through the apps themselves. In that sense, most of the ones I have used are still focused on the mobile ordering experience itself and not on the long-promised other pieces that mobile can provide.

McDonald’s is in a good position to leverage habitual use in the way Starbucks has benefited from their base of ritualistic customers. The morning coffee run, which McDonald’s has been capturing, is the kind of habitual behavior that the incremental advantage of mobile ordering rewards with a feeling of greater convenience. In a lot of respects, most mobile ordering is a small convenience and a shortcut that most of us can take or leave over just calling the order in.

Online/mobile ordering represents in many cases a greater value-add for the restaurant, which can cut a call and human interaction out of the loop. But when the purchase involves a daily routine, that little bit of time savings adds up to a greater perceived value. The success of Starbucks' mobile payment system is a good example of how mobile payments suddenly becomes a real convenience for customers rather than a solution still looking for a problem.      

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