Saturday, December 5, 2020

McDonald's App - The Wave of the Future? - MAYBE NOT

Ordering by app would seem to be the wave of the future, but at least where I live, no one seems to want to use it.

We don't eat a lot of fast food.  Maybe once a month we may go to a fast-food restaurant if we are out and about and lunch time rolls around.   As I noted before, it is expensive and not good for you.  In the time it takes to stand in line at a drive-through, you can make breakfast at home.  Yet we see  people get in their cars and drive to breakfast - it makes no sense.

Recently, Mark had a dentist appointment, and because we rescheduled at the last minute, we had appointments on different days.  We were planning on going to the camper and working on it (it is in storage) so I thought I would do some shopping while Mark was having his teeth cleaned.  Our dentist, who is a decent old-school fellow, was recently joined in his practice by his son.  I couldn't fathom trying to work in a business with my father - quite frankly, I am jealous.   Imagine you Dad being your best friend.  But apparently it happens.

The son is right out of dental school and has a lot of new ideas to bring to the practice - they have television screens so you can look at your x-rays, and they are up-selling services a little more aggressively.  Good for them.  They can offer, but we don't need to accept.   And it is important in any business to give it a fresh look and see whether maybe you are leaving money on the table, and I am sure the son learned a lot in Dentistry school besides how to cap teeth.  It is a business.   At least they aren't selling jaw-breaking and teeth whitening services for $10,000 like our old Dentist in Ithaca tried to do.

But anyway, it was a morning appointment, so I dropped off Mark and went to get something to eat, as he doesn't like to eat before the Dentist (it makes him throw up) and I thought I would use the  McDonald's ordering "app" which I read about somewhere or they pitched to me somehow (the Internet is scary that way).  I had used it twice before during the summer, without too much difficulty.  It wasn't hard to download and install the app, but like their kiosk touchscreen menus (now disabled due to Covid) a little hard to navigate.  One problem with fast-food - by design - is you get there and the menu is pretty confusing and the best bargains are not clearly shown.  You get to the head of the line and panic-order a "meal" that costs nearly $10 and nod your head when they ask you to "supersize" it.

The app is a little different in that it promotes "deals" and they "push" messages on to your phone offering deals like "Free Fries Friday" or  BOGOs on Big Macs or whatever.  I am guessing they are trying to promote the app, so they are offering these deals.  When we were in Pennsylvania, they were offering $1 Big Macs every time the Steelers won, which was nice, but we don't live in Pennsylvania, and it was only at "Participating" stores.   You do have to "select your store" to insure the deal is valid there - and to make sure the food is waiting at the right store when you get there!

That is another nice feature - since you can create your order ahead of time, you can order before you get to the store, and the click on the "I'm here" icon when you arrive (at which point, the order is actually made and your credit card is charged).

Anyway, they had a deal that if bought anything, you'd get a McMuffin or sausage-and-egg biscuit for a penny.  So I ordered a coffee ($1.50) and a hash brown ($1.50) and the total with tax was $3.05.   As fast-food goes, that's fairly cheap, but still three times the cost of making it at home.  It was about $1.70 cheaper than ordering without the app.

So anyway, I ran my errands and whatnot and Mark got out of the Dentist office about noon, and of course he was starving.  The daily "deals" can only be used every 60 minutes, so you can't combine free-fry Fridays with a BOGO Big Mac in one meal (unless the two of you ordered separately).  But it did mean I could get the free fries with an order of two of their chicken sandwiches at $1.45 each, or a little less than three bucks with tax.  Since we usually bring our Walmart Yeti knockoff cups with ice water in them, we didn't have to waste another three dollars buying HFCS-laced soda-pop, or worse yet, diet soda.   Again, for a fast-food meal, that is pretty cheap, three bucks, for two people, but of course, it isn't the "supersized" meal that most folks would have ordered.  On the other hand, without the "deal" it would have been nearly five dollars.

The app has some helpful features - for example, storing what you ordered last time, and offering a "quick reorder" if you want the same thing.  But of course, the "quick reorder" doesn't include the "deal" so if you use the "deal" you have to manually re-enter your order after clicking on the "deal".   There is also some confusion in the app, if you are not familiar with how it works.  If you click on a "deal" and click "use in store" it may then show a bar code to use in store (like a coupon) which you can then show to a cashier - while you verbally give them the rest of the order.  It is like a online coupon, in that regard.  You have to put the "deal" in your "basket" and then add other items, if you want to do the entire order online.

Once you have filled your "cart" or bag with your order, you click on an "order" button and then when you arrive, you actually pay through the app - which automatically charges your credit card.  You have three ways to pick up the food.  You can go through the drive-through, if it is not too crowded, and give them your order number.  We tried this once, and when I said I had a mobile order, they said, "Are you Mr. Bell?" without asking me for an order number, which tells you not many people are using the mobile app.

You can also go into the store, which I have done to use the bathroom. This is a little trickier, as it seems they "forget" your order and you have to get the attention of the cashier to get them to fill it, even after you clicked on the "I'm here" button for in-store pickup and gotten a confirmation from your bank and McDonald's (via e-mail) that you have been charged.

The best way, particularly if the store is busy, is to park in the numbered "pickup" spot and then enter the spot number on the app.  In a few minutes someone comes out of the store and hands you your stuff.  We tried this once during a busy lunch hour when the drive-through line was going around the block.  So we go out of line and parked in the pickup spaces, which always seem to be empty (again, no one is using this app?). By the the time the order was carried to us, the cars that had been ahead of us in the line were just being served.  So it is faster to just park and wait.

So all told, we have used it maybe four times - twice this summer while travelling, and twice the other day before and after the Dentist office visit.  The app works well, the "deals" are better than no deal, and the service is, well, the drive-through and curbside pickup seem pretty seamless, but in-store pickup seems kind of clunky - they don't seem to recognize your order until you bring it to their attention.  Also, they seem to act like you are somehow ruining their day by ordering via the app.

What puzzles me is why people aren't using the app more. Maybe in the big cities, it is seeing great acceptance.  But where we live, people are on their cell phones all the time - texting while driving, and whatnot.  Kids play video games on them obsessively.  Folks spend hours on YouTube or ordering junk from Amazon or wherever.   People know how to use cell phones, but for some reason, at the fast-food restaurant, they stubbornly insist on standing in line and ordering from the cashier (the kiosk thing never caught on where we live, either - and the staff acted like you ruined their day for using the kiosk as well) or they insist on sitting in long lines in the drive-through, idling their engines. It makes no sense.

But perhaps it is just an implementation barrier.  When fast food restaurants and other small-change stores started taking credit cards, I guess ten years ago now, we all said, "That's stupid!  Charging a fast-food meal on a credit card?  What idiot does that?"  And a decade before that, we said, "Who charges their groceries at the grocery store?  You pay cash or write a check, right?"   It takes a while for people to accept new ways of paying and behaving - which is one reason why this "virtual wallet" idea is having so much trouble catching on.

Speaking of which, what is the point of tap-and-pay?  I got a new credit card (the old one expired) with this feature.  Just tap the card to pay!  But every time I try to use it, either (a) it doesn't work until I try it five different times and (b) the cashier says, "oh, you want to use the tap and pay feature?" and then has to press some combination of buttons on the register to make this work - and once again, acts like I ruined their day by asking to use this wave-of-the-future feature.  Why does the cashier need to know in advance that I am using this, and what button do they have to press on the cash register to enable it?  It seems like so much else in tech, that the rollout of this technology was intentionally hobbled, probably for financial reasons (e.g., the credit card companies make less money with tap-and-pay, or maybe the retailer has to pay more).

Oh brave new world, where everyone wants a moat and monopoly on how we pay for things.

The best thing I like about paying by app, is that like with the kiosk, I don't feel I am being rushed into buying more than I wanted to.  I can look at the entire menu and see all the less-expensive items, which are not prominently featured in the drive-through or in-store menus (or even the kiosks).  I can look over the menu and make an order, as we did the other day, of less than $3 of items, instead of paying $7 or more for some bagel-sandwich "meal" with a large coffee.

And therein lies the problem for McDonald's (or any other fast-food restaurant):  The app doesn't push you to get the high-dollar high-profit supersized meals as much as ordering in-person does.  Even the Kiosk pushes the "meals" as if they were somehow a "savings" for the consumer (they usually aren't or the savings are trivial and they encourage over-consumption).  Like I said, if you want to save money here, skip the soda pop, and bring your own beverage, as their mark-up on soda pop is huge, and where they make their money.  $1.50 or more for a fountain drink?   A license to print money.

So while at the present time, the app seems to have a lot of "deals" in it designed to entice people to use the app, I presume that once the app has achieved a certain level of penetration, the deals will evaporate and the app will more aggressively push the packaged "meal" offers.

On the other hand, it is brilliant marketing.  A notice comes up on your phone offering free hash browns if you buy anything, and maybe you think, "Well, I could go for a cup of coffee, that's only a buck-fifty - and free hash browns!"  And pretty soon, you are thinking this is an idea you came up with on your own.  But it wasn't.

Still, I find the whole concept fascinating.  It is interesting how they lead us down the chute to the captured-bolt gun!

UPDATE JUNE 2021:   Pandemic's over - go back to normal!  The fabulous "deals" on the "app" have pretty much evaporated. No more BOGO's or free fries, just discounts on "coffee drinks."  And the restaurants are shying away from using the app.  In two cases, we have used the app to order lunch, only to go to the restaurant and find out they have no record of us ordering anything, even though Micky-D put a hold on our credit card.

I suspect they are spiking the orders because they don't want to walk out of the store to do curbside delivery.  At one store, the employees are parking in the curbside spaces to discourage use of the app.  This is a problem, as you don't realize this until you get there and then waste 20 minutes waiting for food that never comes.

The app has a big glitch.  There is no feedback to the user that the restaurant has received the order and is making the food.  Rather, the app sends a message to the restaurant computer and whether the restaurant got the order is never confirmed.  So you wait... and wait.. and wait.....

Well, maybe not anymore.  I deleted the app and probably won't be going back anytime soon.  I mean, that shit is bad for you anyway.  And for not a lot more money, we went to a real Mexican taco place and had tacos and beer, which was much better (although probably not much better for you!).  Plus, I am giving my money to a locally-owned business, not some faceless corporation.

They really screwed the pooch with this app - and it had such promise, too!  Ditto for the ordering kiosks,which sit gathering dust in most of the stores.  No one seems to want to use them, and the staff acts like you ruined their day if you do!

UPDATE:  They charged the credit card.  I filed a complaint with the app and they said to call a 1-800 number.  I called and they said there was nothing they could do.  I should go to the restaurant and speak to the manager.   That is a huge hassle.  And imagine if you are traveling and the store is three states away now.  The store was a franchise store, and I suspect they do not like giving the discounts.  Employees were parking their cars in the pickup spots, clearly trying to spoof the whole thing.

DO NOT USE THE MCDONALD'S APP.   You will lose money.  I disputed the transaction with the credit card company.  We'll see where that goes.

How sad, these things have such promise, but are so easily sabotaged by lazy restaurant employees, I believe.