McDonald's is trying to compete with Starbucks' biggest advantage - here's who comes out on top
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- McDonald's and Starbucks are making major investments in mobile ordering apps.
- As foot traffic falls, chains are growing sales by convincing customers to order on their smartphones.
- We tried both McDonald's and Starbucks' mobile apps - and discovered McDonald's is catching up to Starbucks' digital domination.
As foot traffic falls flat, chains are turning to mobile ordering in an attempt to boost sales.
The number of orders being placed via mobile apps skyrocketed by 50% in US restaurants in 2017, according to data from the NPD Group. And, Business Insider Intelligence predicts that by 2020, mobile order-ahead will account for 10.7% of all quick-service restaurant (QSR) sales.
So far, Starbucks has led the way in mobile order and pay. Mobile and other digital payments make up nearly a third of all of the coffee chain's sales, and they account for even more of the company's sales growth.
"Almost all of our same-store sales growth is from those customers that we have digital relationships with and those that are in our Starbucks Rewards program," Starbucks CFO Scott Maw said at a JPMorgan forum in March.
Seeing Starbucks' success, other chains are trying to cash in on mobile ordering. In 2017, McDonald's announced plans to roll out mobile ordering at all US locations.
However, while mobile orders are intended to make ordering more convenient for customers, they can also create new issues. Starbucks has faced problems with overcrowding and bottlenecks in the past, though these seem to have been resolved with some behind-the-scenes changes.
With McDonald's building out its more gourmet coffee offerings and Starbucks working to improve its food selection, the two biggest chains in the US by sales are competing more and more. So, we decided to see how their mobile-ordering apps measure up.
Here's how the Starbucks and McDonald's mobile ordering experiences compare:
Starbucks has spent the last few years perfecting its mobile order-and-pay system.
The app interface is sleek and easy to use.
One of the major perks of mobile ordering is customization.
Typically, Starbucks says it will take two to five minutes for your order to be ready — an estimate that the chain increasingly achieves.
Starbucks employees call out customers' names before placing the labeled order in the pickup shelf.
McDonald's mobile-ordering system is newer than Starbucks'.
Customization is, once again, a major bonus — though the system has a few kinks it needs to work out.
One major difference between the two is the fact that you can't finish placing your order until you are physically at McDonald's.
Because McDonald's service is already speedy by necessity (thanks to the drive-thru), orders are typically ready in under five minutes. In most instances, it was even speedier than Starbucks.
McDonald's order pick-up was a hectic experience with employees yelling out the number assigned to orders, jumbled in among the meals of people who placed their orders in the location.
However, McDonald's doesn't promise customers the relaxed, enjoyable experience that Starbucks does. It just has to be fast.
Starbucks comes out on top in the mobile-order wars — but don't count McDonald's out just yet.
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