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Mobile Speeds Up the Search for Fast Food

Restaurants are the most common mobile search

New York, NY (December 3, 2012) – For consumers, the question of what to eat is often followed by “What’s nearby?” Today, smartphones are where many are turning for guidance, according to a new eMarketer report, “Mobile Fast Food Marketing: How QSRs and Fast Casuals Are Getting Quicker and Faster.” With the help of store locators, menu finders, mobile coupons and ordering apps, searchers are making more dining decisions while on the move.

This report looks at how consumers are using mobile to find and order fast food, and how fast food marketers are using mobile to communicate with customers. It answers key questions including:

  • How many restaurant searchers are in their cars when looking for a place to eat?
  • Do restaurant marketers need to have apps?
  • Are fast food diners ready for mobile ordering?
  • What’s the level of consumer interest in mobile payments and wallets?

Fast food, for eMarketer purposes, is used to refer to quick-service restaurants (QSRs) like McDonald’s and fast casuals like Five Guys Burgers and Fries. The two segments are increasingly blurred for both customers and marketers, and mobile is having a major impact on trends in both industries. Mobile is high on the list of technologies both fast casuals and quick-service restaurants plan to adopt.

There is good reason for fast food marketers to focus on mobile. Fast food customers are more likely to own smartphones than the general public. Forty-four percent of consumers who eat fast food at least monthly owned smartphones in the last quarter of 2011, according to foodservice research firm Sandelman & Associates. That’s 14 percentage points higher than eMarketer’s estimate of overall smartphone ownership for the same period.

And they are using the phones to look for dining options.

According to local search advertising company YP, 24% of mobile searches on its network in September 2012 were for restaurants, the largest share of any category.

When consumers use their phones for fast food restaurant searching, proximity is very important. A June 2012 xAd and Telmetrics study found that 64% of smartphone users searching for restaurants expected results within walking or driving distance.

The same study also pointed up the immediacy of mobile restaurant searchers. Nearly two-thirds (64%) purchased their meal within an hour of their search. Eighty-four percent of smartphone users eventually converted.

So there is plenty of reason for marketers to seek out—and make themselves seamlessly available to—these mobile users on the hunt for the next meal.

To do so, some are using mobile coupons and loyalty programs to gain customers, as well creating mobile-optimized websites. Some are even going a step further and providing ordering capabilities through a mobile website and apps. For a smartphone user putting in an order while heading out the door, fast food is getting unmistakably faster.

“From the appropriation of factory assembly lines to the invention of drive-thru windows, the fast food industry has always looked for new ways to streamline the process of moving meals from kitchen to customer,” said eMarketer. “Mobile is the latest tool to help further that goal for restaurant operator and patron alike.”

Posted on December 3, 2012.