McDonald's creating 'Experience of the future'

by Monica Watrous
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McDonald's is set to introduce a customizable burger platform and mobile ordering in US restaurants.

NEW YORK — What does the future hold? For McDonald’s customers, the answer is customizable Quarter Pounders and mobile ordering. And for McDonald’s, executives hope, an end to declining sales.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp. is crafting an “Experience of the future” as part of aggressive actions to become more contemporary and relevant against intensifying marketplace competition. The concept integrates initiatives around McDonald’s menu, brand and digital technology.

“These are the main drivers behind our McDonald’s ‘Experience of the future,’ delivering more relevant food and beverage offerings, driving greater trust in our brand, especially around food quality, and transforming our service and convenience through significant digital efforts,” Steve Easterbrook, chief brand officer, told analysts at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer and Retail Conference held Nov. 19 in New York. “There is tremendous runway ahead for us in all of these three areas, so we’re seizing on them in a more aligned and consumer-driven manner.”

In addition to recipe and ingredient tweaks, the fast-food chain is rolling out a customization platform called “Create your taste.”

“We’re preparing our Quarter Pounder patty, our burger in a new way, letting customers choose their own toppings, and experimenting with digital ordering, table service and other experience enhancements,” Easterbrook said. “We’re meeting the large societal trend for customization and personalization and being more in step with how our customers live and what they want from McDonald’s.”

With customization comes the threat of slower service and throughput, but executives expect new technology enhancements, including self-order kiosks, will enable a “more intuitive ordering process,” eliminating lengthy times at the front counter.

“The piece we need to stress on this one, as well, the ‘Create your taste’ for us at the moment we are defining as an in-restaurant solution, not a drive-through,” Easterbrook said. “So if you’ve got a little bit of time and you’re willing to wait two or three minutes, you go through, you take yourself through the ordering process, go take a seat, and we'll just bring it out to you.

“So it’s an entirely enhanced customer offering. But we are very, very sensitive that it doesn’t interact or interfere with the existing efficiency.”

McDonald’s is leveraging digital technology to provide convenient ordering and payment while engaging customers with personalized experiences.

“The area of digital commerce holds huge potential for us, with a myriad of ways to make our brand easier to use, build greater loyalty and drive more transactions,” Easterbrook said. “Using mobile technology, for example, we can offer advance ordering to our customers and introduce pickup as a whole new service option, or encourage other orders at the restaurant level.”

Recently, the chain introduced Apple Pay in its US restaurants, allowing customers to buy a Big Mac with an iPhone 6 or Apple Watch. McDonald’s expects to introduce a new mobile app in the United States next year.

“The app will offer promotions and payment and be followed by ordering and loyalty program capabilities, and we’re truly excited by what lays ahead for us in digital and our overall McDonald’s ‘Experience of the future,’” Easterbrook said.

Brand-building actions center on sustainability and transparency. In October, McDonald’s debuted in the United States its ‘Our food, your questions’ on-line campaign, which invites customers to ask questions about the company’s products and processes.

“We’ve already answered more than 13,000 questions on-line,” Easterbrook said. “And it’s not just about dispelling the myths. We’re also getting a much deeper understanding of our biggest customer issues and how better to address them. So we’re looking forward to a lot more relevant and meaningful engagement with consumers as a result.”

At the helm of efforts to re-energize business in the United States is Mike Andres, who in October took over the role of president of McDonald’s USA. Under his leadership, McDonald’s expects to roll out the enhancements across three or four markets, or 1,000 to 2,000 restaurants, by the second half of next year.

“And from there, once we’ve fine-tuned the consumer proposition in all those areas, whether it’s through the menu side, whether it’s through digital engagement, some of the service experience, once we fine-tune that others to move quickly,” Easterbrook said. “So I think we’ve proven that in the past we can move pretty quick when we have the right solution in place.”

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