Digital transformation has been an ongoing area of focus for the food and beverage industry, along with retailers and consumer packaged goods brands, for a while now. But the past few months has greatly accelerated the move to digital, as the world grapples with the impact of COVID-19 on normal business operations. Given the current circumstances, we’re now seeing an increased use of carryout (BOPIS) and curbside pickup.

While it’s positive to see more and more brands adopt omnichannel initiatives, they come with their fair share of challenges. It is essential that brands get them right the first time to ensure a seamless experience that keeps customers coming back again and again.

More than half of consumers use a digital property when ordering for carryout or curbside pickup. With that in mind, brands will have to navigate three main challenges to provide customers with the best omnichannel experience possible.

Challenge 1: The Limitations of Third-Party Apps

Many stores, particularly local ones with a single location, were not set up for digital ordering. Some still aren’t. So when COVID-19 threatened the typical in-store experience, these companies had to pivot quickly. Many turned to third-party ordering applications, which is especially true for restaurants.

These third-party apps don’t always provide the best user experience. For example, I frequent a local sushi place. It has an extensive menu, which is great when you are dining in because it gives you plenty of options. However, because it uses a third-party app, that same large menu that I enjoy when in the physical restaurant becomes a burden when ordering online. That’s because the app requires endless scrolling to get to a desired item, in part because the categories are not listed in a logical order. For instance, when I add an item to my cart, I am immediately brought back up to the top of the menu and forced to scroll all over again, instead of having the ability to keep my place as I select items.

Third-party apps are great to get up and running quickly, but they clearly have their limitations, especially if no one takes the time up front to go through user flows and ensure they meet customer expectations.

Related Article: Align Your Online and Offline CX for Bottom Line Results

Challenge 2: The Balancing Act of Third-Party Delivery

Third-party delivery, or 3PD, services like Instacart, Doordash and Uber Eats play a crucial role in a customer’s selection process. According to research from Service Management Group, not only are customers using third-party delivery more often, half of them are deploying more than one app to do so. Boomers were the only age demographic more likely to stick with one provider. What’s more, the research found that if a restaurant wasn’t available via third-party delivery service, “three out of four respondents said they would get food somewhere else. Only 24% said they would choose another option to eat from that restaurant.”

In light of the Service Management Group's findings, it’s clear that 3PD is important, even essential. Yet, similar to the challenge around selecting a mobile ordering app, third-party delivery options provide an experience that is largely outside the control of the company itself. Despite this separation, consumers will associate the brand they are ordering from, not the third-party delivery service, for a bad experience, which can negatively impact customer loyalty.

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Learning Opportunities

Challenge 3: Order Accuracy

The biggest issue with carryout and curbside pickup,  and often any omnichannel experience, is order accuracy. Everyone seems to have battle stories around problems with orders. Just the other day I picked up food from a restaurant, yet the main dish — the reason I chose this restaurant — was missing from the order. Everyone has dealt with this operational issue at some point.

This problem isn't exclusive to digital ordering. It happens in physical locations too, but it is much easier to realize and remedy when you are able to immediately tell a staff member about a missing item in person.

Related Article: Where Omnichannel Experiences Get Stuck

How to Address These Challenges

At the end of the day, much is outside the control of the restaurant, retailer or grocer. Yet research shows that any negative experience reflects poorly on their brand, regardless of whether or not they can control it. So what can brands do to manage omnichannel initiatives to give consumers the best experience possible?

First, they should do the leg work when it comes to third-party services. It’s not enough to compare third parties based on price and other business-related factors. Instead, review the customer experience of the services from an end user’s perspective.

Omnichannel experiences should be comprehensively tested to identify and understand any weaknesses in the process. Getting real-world user feedback on operations, including accuracy of orders, will help brands fine-tune employee training and internal processes. Likewise, testing third-party delivery apps will provide feedback to the 3PD so they can improve their service going forward.

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