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GUEST COMMENT A masterclass from McDonald’s – what retailers can learn about convenience

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Simon Hathaway, Group MD EMEA at Outform

McDonald’s isn’t usually a blueprint for in-store design, but there are big learnings for retailers after it unveiled a new format as part of its programme to upgrade restaurants in the UK & Ireland.

The new-look restaurant – created under the fast-food giant’s £250 million Convenience of the Future investment – introduces 11 ways for customers to get a meal with new ways to pay and to pick up. McDonald’s move is in line with how customer expectations have shifted in the past two years: they’re more digitally savvy, impatient, and want browsing and buying items in-store to be as swift and convenient as it is online.

For retailers, this is a firing shot in what shoppers want from their instore experience, and in the not too distant future to boot. With multiple online channels for discovery and purchasing now available, the future of in-store convenience is about catering to new propensities to purchase. McDonald’s response shows how.

Why in-store experiences should be driven by utility

The biggest value that McDonald’s brings to its customers isn’t just a Big Mac, it’s the speed with which they can get it.

The chain has increased order-and-pay options and carved out a space for each in its new-look restaurants – a smart move. After all, each is designed to make browsing the menu and paying for food easier, so the revamp avoids any friction of having multiple purchase touchpoints all together in one space.

The result is speedy service in its restaurants enabled by digital capabilities. It demonstrates the prioritisation of genuine shopper utility over immersive experiences in store – a tough trend to resist given the ascendance of the metaverse.

Retailers that dare to innovate to deliver utility can bring digital tools in-store too. For example, a tech retailer that relies on demos to sell big-ticket items could make spaces for virtual one-to-ones, so that customers can speak to sales assistants without having to queue. At the same time, a fashion retailer could follow Amazon Style’s strategy, where customers can access stock information, such as colours and sizes, through a QR-code.

Post-pandemic convenience will be led by digital trends, so it needs to be fast, accessible and on shoppers’ terms. For retailers selling more considered items than fast food, taking advantage of the right tech can automate the information that drives a sale, and ensure shoppers have it instantly.

How to make buying ‘anywhere, anytime’ an in-store fixture

McDonald’s new programme also brings the My McDonald’s app in-store. Customers can use their phones in restaurants to make an order, pay, and then pick up at the till.

Outform’s own research found that 83% of shoppers are already online in-store, so it’s clear that phones are setting the tone in how we’ll pay in-store going forward.

Retailers would be wise to upgrade their own apps so that shoppers can use them in-store and add items to a virtual basket for faster check-out, and can even spur shopper loyalty by offering exclusive benefits or by recommending add-ons based on what they’ve bought in the past.

The extra benefit here is the opportunity to initiate a digital handshake across online and offline. By connecting smartphones in-store, the shopper journey spans long after they’ve left the store. They can use them to demo products, scan QR codes to find out more information and then seamlessly purchase at home.

Shoppers are less likely to discover and buy in one setting now, making the experience ubiquitous across all channels is key to delivering real value to customers.

Why utility is a guaranteed profit driver

McDonald’s stores that have rolled out the new format have already reported a sales increase, so it’s clear that shoppers are more likely to spend with retailers whose experiences are driven by utility.
Others are going to quickly follow McDonald’s lead in renovating physical spaces to complement online habits, whether that’s better QR capabilities so that shoppers can use their phones to buy or touchscreens for informative virtual sessions.

And although this might seem like a large investment for many retailers, it’s likely to be a long-term loyalty lever for shoppers who expect in-store to become an extension of digital channels. But there’s only a short window to do this as competitors will soon jump on this bandwagon.

Utility isn’t just a retail perk anymore, it’s going to be fundamental in futureproofing bricks and mortar stores.

Shoppers can now access all of the information online to make a purchase with the option for same-day delivery. Retailers have to resist the growing trend of ‘immersive’ experiences, to instead focus on automating parts of the purchase journey in-store that benefit shoppers most.

Early adopters of this will win large chunks of shoppers who want the same convenience as online, but to encourage a return to the stores need to take each channel out of their siloes. Investing in store revamps should connect online and offline so that shoppers can browse and buy in whichever way is most convenient for themselves.


Simon Hathaway, Group MD EMEA at Outform

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