One byte at a time

Michelle Brisebois
May 02, 2011
Written by Michelle Brisebois
The foodservice industry hasn’t leapt at online ordering as quickly as other retail sectors have. Let’s face it: food doesn’t ship as easily or stay as fresh as apparel does and it can’t morph into a downloadable format like music or media. The success of virtual grocery stores has been lacklustre and when push comes to shove, who’s really sitting at a desk ordering baked goods on their computer? Hardly anybody. This is precisely why we need to revisit our digital strategies. We don’t go to our computers anymore, they come along with us.

In mid-February, information technology market intelligence provider IDC announced a huge milestone in terms of consumer technology use. IDC reported that in the final quarter of 2010, worldwide sales of smartphones surpassed sales of PCs for the first time. Smartphone sales totalled 100 million units, while PC sales totalled 92 million units. This shift occurred much faster than most trendwatchers had predicted. As late as November 2010, former Morgan Stanley analyst Mary Meeker was pointing to 2012 as the time when smartphones would pass PCs in terms of raw numbers.

The key here is that your customers are moving targets. They’re hooked up to their mobile oxygen and they want to access your website on the go.

“I compare it to clients of 20 years ago who asked why they needed a website. Today, it’s ‘why do I need a mobile website’?” says Rob Barnett, managing director of Stray Dog Marketing and Design in West Vancouver. In January, Barnett says in a Vancouver Sun article: “Stats say more people access websites through mobile devices than through computers.” Having websites for mobile devices like iPhone, Blackberry and Android platforms, he says, is an absolute must to reach customers. “We always say ‘young’ customers but what is young?” He points out that, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) that are utilizing mobile devices – it’s baby boomers too, and in large numbers. Most restaurants don’t have websites that have been configured to be mobile-friendly and quick to navigate, but they should. This is a form of sampling to lure the consumer in to check out your business in person. 

Your regular customers may choose to receive mobile text messaging with special offers. The offer is displayed on their smartphone screen, and they can respond by simply walking into your bakery and showing the coupon on their phone. According to Barnett, studies show people follow through more with mobile text offers than with e-mail or print offers. “It’s an instant read and the redemption is six to 10 times higher. The number 1 mobile market in the U.S. is Seattle and that’s not far from us.”

Soon, he says, GPS-enabled phones will bring forth geo-location marketing, featuring messages sent from nearby restaurants once you enter their neighbourhood. “It’s not quite here but I can see it happening this year.”

It works like this: you register your business to highlight what you do best, and the consumer asks where to find these things. Satellites can track their location via the GPS and create the match between what they like and where they can get it. Simply put, if a consumer loves pecan pie or a specific type of chocolate and you have these items, a little notice will pop up on their phone as they walk past your bakery, letting them know you have what they crave. It feels Big Brotherish but because consumers have asked for this information, it’s simply a case of leveraging technology to broker connections.

But tapping into the mobile market isn’t the only way to use technology to your advantage. By accepting online orders, submitted either from smartphones or from regular old computers, customers benefit from improved convenience, order accuracy and no wait time. Previous order history can be captured and accessed so customers can see that they ordered the marble cake for their mother-in-law’s birthday last year. You automatically capture their e-mail address, so sending a reminder about their mother-in-law’s impending birthday this year will help spur the customer into action earlier. They’ll be delighted to be reminded ahead of time, and you’ll be delighted not to be rushing the order through at the last minute. Win meets win as online ordering goes beyond just customer convenience. Online ordering will assist you in creating a more direct relationship between the customer and your bakery. It gives you a chance to connect to your customers and learn how to market to them more effectively.

It’s true that when it comes to food, online ordering is still in its toddlerhood. Introducing online ordering now will put your bakery at the front of this emerging trend. Research from Mintel shows that in the United States, five per cent of pick-up and delivery lunches are ordered online versus 24 per cent ordered by phone or fax. Consumers are not yet aware enough of the service to demand it, and too few restaurants currently offer it. But even though online food ordering is still an emerging trend, the number of consumers who appear to be interested in it is quite high. For most demographic groups, the percentage of consumers interested in online ordering is almost as great as the percentage that currently order by phone or fax. This suggests that consumers will embrace online ordering as it becomes more common. These digital solutions are more widely available and cost effective than ever before. They level the playing field, helping small businesses reach big numbers of potential customers. Larger companies will still be conducting their 25th committee meeting on the matter while you’re getting in the game. At this rate, you’ll be moving as fast as your customers.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She specializes in retail brand strategies.

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