Moving Retail Innovation to the Head of the Line

By Ben Savage

I’d like to introduce you to a new concept project we call Eagle. It’s based on an idea that sprang from several things our team noticed over the past few months. The name comes from the fact the engineering team knew it would be ready when it landed. (Yes it’s risky to let engineers name projects, and yes the engineer who named it was wearing a trench coat and sunglasses when they showed me the final design.)

Why order-ahead is so inefficient

The first thing that got us thinking was the frustration of standing in line at Chipotle for an extra 10 minutes due to an online order that hadn’t been ready at a busy time.

The second was reading recent articles about Starbucks’ mobile app that allows for order-ahead, and learning that it would have no scheduling ability – your coffee will be ready when it’s ready.

The third was walking into a Panera and seeing that they’d added a new person to run orders to customers and to the new bookshelf for online pick-up orders.

Frustration drives innovation

These experiences had our CEO and me thinking that there has to be a better way.

The current ways aren’t all that efficient, and in many cases probably hurt the efficiency of the restaurant and the customer experience.

To begin developing Eagle we established several goals:

  • The system must have minimal impact to the exiting work flow of associates behind the counter
  • The system must be modular and able to fit on a counter
  • The system must have a look and feel that could be adapted to retail/food service
  • The system must be easy for the customer to use

Making it easy for employees and customers

Eagle_Coffee_SmallThe final product pictured here is designed so that it can be loaded from the rear. This means that it can be placed on the counter where associates prepare orders so that they can easily load the system without leaving their workstation. In its final state, Eagle will be integrated with the restaurant’s order management system to display the customers’ order details and which Eagle compartment the order should be placed in.

Because Eagle units have sensors that know when an order has been loaded, there’s an opportunity to remove the pushbuttons and touchscreens often used to let order management systems know an order is complete. Instead, the system’s notified by the action of loading an item in an Eagle compartment (ok… our engineers are trying to call them nests).

Customers receive a text message, email or push notification that their order is ready. They can then approach the front of the Eagle unit and scan the QR code on the order or the restaurant’s mobile app. The Eagle unit will unlock and light up the compartment that the customer can access so they can retrieve their order.

At Apex, friction (or degree of difficulty) is a tool. We can remove friction to make things easier for our users, or we can increase the level of friction and workflow impact to drive specific behaviors. Project Eagle is an example of how we minimize friction. In the next post I’ll talk a little more about the problems the current methods of order-ahead are creating in restaurants.