F&B takes bite at mobile apps market

Food and beverage chains PastaMania and Pizza Hut tap growing mobile-savvy consumer base, launching apps that allow customers to make home delivery orders via their smartphones. Efforts will stretch customer reach and generate new revenue, say company execs.

To better leverage and engage with the growing community of mobile-savvy consumers, food and beverage (F&B) companies are pumping efforts to develop their own mobile commerce apps, allowing customers to order food directly via their smartphones.

Singapore's PastaMania food chain, for instance, last month released its own food-ordering app for Apple's mobile devices including iPhone and iPad. With the app, customers can browse the store's menu and place their food orders for home delivery via their iPhone as they would online.

Ong Tiong Han, sales and marketing manager of PastaMatrix International, which owns PastaMania, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the app was developed due to the potential of m-commerce amid the popularity of the iPhone in Singapore.

Furthermore, most of PastaMania's customers are young working adults and students who are tech-savvy, Ong said, citing the high volume of online orders which contributes almost 50 percent of the company's total delivery sales. Phone orders account for the other half.

The iPhone app was designed specifically to be aligned with the F&B chain's online site and its backend is integrated with the restaurant's online ordering system, he said. Both mobile and online systems use the same database containing product and customer information such as home delivery addresses, he added.

Ong said ensuring full integration between the online and mobile ordering systems makes it easier for customers to adopt. "Users want to see a seamless operation whether it is from the Web or from their [smartphone]," he said.

The restaurant's staff working at the delivery center also benefit, he added, noting that employees prefer dealing with just one integrated system, rather than two isolated ones, for operational convenience on a daily basis.

A tight mobile-online integration also means that system maintenance is easier and smoother in the long-run, compared to running two independent systems, he said.

However, Ong revealed that the downside of an integrated system is that it is more costly and labor-intensive for developers to build. The software has to be capable of handling constant data updates from the backend such as new food items or price changes, he explained.

In addition, he said the backend engine also needs to take care of administrative tasks in both platforms including order submissions and user login validation from the iPhone.

Sreekumar A.N., director for business solutions at Zoliotech, said the PastaMania app is the first F&B-related mobile application it developed, although the Web developer has created applications involving backend synchronization engines for other industry sectors.

Challenge pushing mobile changes
Ong noted that a major challenge PastraMatrix faced managing its mobile app was the inability to make any changes to the app once it had been released for public download.

In comparison, he explained that for the company's online system, the software can be modified on the backend should a need arise, such as to fix bugs, and the change is instantly reflected the next time a user runs the application on his Web browser.

But for the iPhone app, it is impossible to make any corrections because the binary code resides in the user's mobile phone, Ong explained.

The only way to have any corrections done is to provide a new version of the software for users to reload into their smartphone, he said. However, there is still no guarantee they would upgrade to the latest version, he noted.

Since its launch on Oct. 1, the PastaMania app has clocked over 10,000 downloads on the App Store. Ong added that the app has so far contributed around 8 percent of delivery orders received, compared to the Web site and call center at 43 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

With the encouraging response, he said the restaurant chain is currently deliberating plans to launch the mobile app in other countries where there are PastaMania outlets such as Malaysia, Brunei, Kuwait and Egypt.

Mobile apps expand reach
Another F&B company, Pizza Hut, also launched a home-delivery mobile app on the Apple app store in Hong Kong on Oct. 14. It released a similar app in the United States in July last year and Australia in September 2010.

Richard Leong, marketing director of Pizza Hut Hong Kong and Macau, said in a media statement that with the consumer landscape becoming more dispersed, mobile apps play "a crucial role in [the company's] multiple-channel strategy".

He added that the mobile platform provides an effective, engaging and convenient approach to reach customers, especially with the growing popularity of the iPhone. He also noted that with tough competition in the takeaway and delivery business in Hong Kong, having a mobile app will help differentiate the company from other rivals as well as update mobile users of Pizza Hut's menu range and promotions.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Leong explained that orders made via iPhone app are integrated with the company's existing backend management system, which includes orders from the Web and phone.

He said the integration helps shorten development time, reduce development and operation cost, and also simplify infrastructure for easier management.

Leong added that by directing all orders back to the same backend system, processing orders from all the different channels--Web, phone and mobile app--is centralized and streamlined. At the same time, it also establishes a simplified and flexible ordering infrastructure that allows future expansion to other ordering channels such as other mobile OSes.

Should the various channels not be properly integrated, Leong said the company would have to triple the amount of effort spent building and maintaining all the channels.

Since its Oct. 14 launch, the Pizza Hut iPhone app in Hong Kong has registered over 40,000 downloads, and Leong said he expects the number of orders to grow as the company's marketing communications thrust on the Apple platform gains momentum.

However, he does not anticipate orders from the company's online and telephone ordering systems to drop because having all delivery touch-points help cater to a broad customer base and provide convenience.

May Cheng, business development director of GreenTomato, the mobile solutions consultancy which created the Pizza Hut iPhone app, said in the media statement that localization was an important factor in designing and building the app for the Hong Kong market.

While the app in the U.S. focuses primarily on functionalities such as customizing pizzas from crust to toppings, GreenTomato had to localize the mode of ordering to accommodate a variety of food combo selections, which is popular among consumers in Hong Kong.

Cheng told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that m-commerce apps, and not just food-ordering apps, will gradually emerge as a big trend just like how online ordering on Web sites has since become mainstream.


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