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Is Order-Ahead the New Check-In?

Data Scout is LSA’s series that curates and draws meaning from third-party data. Running semi-weekly, it adds an analytical layer to the industry data that we encounter in daily knowledge building. For LSA original data, see the separate Modern Commerce Monitor™️ series.


Ordering things ahead to pick them up is quickly growing as a consumer behavior. Though fundamentally different, it’s activity levels mirror that of last decade’s social/local check-ins. It’s cultivated through app features to order something then breeze through to pick it up, skip lines and not have to talk to anyone.

A component of the on-demand economy, it’s happening in lots of local categories like retail (more on that in a bit) but is most prevalent with food. Specifically, a new survey (n=1200) from BRP and Windstream Enterprise reports that 20 percent of diners use a pre-order option such as in-app ordering and pick up.

This aligns with trends we’re separately tracking. When recently unpacking the new phenomenon of cloud kitchens, we asserted that they’ve found fertile ground precisely because a larger share of local prepared food consumption is happening through online/mobile ordering. It’s also mobile payments‘ killer app.

If we boil it down, order-ahead is growing from a combination of consumers’ app savvy, available mobile app features to order-ahead, and smart logistics. The latter is where things get interesting because restaurants that lean into this trend can work towards streamlined operations and yield optimization.

For example, Starbucks — today’s biggest order-ahead exemplar — has benefited from offering it. In addition to customer loyalty, it’s able to fulfill more orders than the physical capacity of its locations sometimes limits. It’s even gone as far as to open high-yield order-only locations.

Another company leaning into this trend is McDonald’s. The company has started to rethink its physical layouts to build ground-up logistics that accommodate mobile pick-up orders. This includes optimal timing of when to fire new orders, kichen design, and even reengineering the drive-through.

Deviating from food examples, another exemplar of order-ahead is Target. It continues to show strong performance for order pick-up as a portion of revenue. Specifically, order-ahead / pick-up accounted for more than a third of Target’s Q2 digital sales, up 20 percent year-over-year.

Not only are pick-up orders on the rise, but Target attributes overall performance gains to this growth in order-ahead. Amidst an embattled retail sector, Target continues to beat earnings estimates, most recently reporting 17 percent growth in year-over-year profits in Q2. We believe in-aisle payments are next.

And that’s just it. There’s lots of talk about retailpocolypse and other woes of brick & mortar business. But the companies doing it right are not only surviving but thriving. And those companies map directly to tech adoption and ability to lean into new capabilities and user demand signals.

For example, back to the BRP survey, it revealed digital affinities beyond order-ahead. Respondents report that dining choices are influenced by availability of mobile features like menus, reviews and photos. That number jumps up to 53 percent if segmenting just millennials.

And despite growing demand for things like order-ahead, the same study revealed that only 26 percent of restaurants currently offer that functionality or have compatible POS systems. That means lots more transformation still to come and lots of headroom for SMB-focused startups

Like other local commerce tech, these operational and logistical functions will start with multi-location brands before migrating to SMBs in greater numbers. But smart SMBs — or companies that serve them — will start devising road maps for product-ordering, pick-up and overall logistical transformation.


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