Finger-tappin’ good

08 APR 2013

Colonel Sanders’ success was built on frying chicken better than his rivals. Apparently, the key for the KFC founder was using a pressure fryer, a much faster approach than conventional pan frying.

In what sounds like another innovation, the colonel’s descendants at KFC have embraced mobile technology. The company is starting a trial in the UK that enables users to place an order via their handset and then collect their food from their nearest KFC. The company said it will set aside an individual checkout just for mobile collections.

It’s an appealing idea that might prove popular with users. Except KFC is hardly the first fast food chain or retailer to see the possibilities of mobile technology.

Rival McDonalds last year tested an app that enabled users to pay via PayPal on their phone or online and then collect their food from a separate queue in one of the trial outlets.

Others are also toying with ideas about how to change the checkout process. In Australia, a trial (PayPal again) uses facial recognition to speed up transactions.

And Starbucks and partner Square plan in the future to use GPS so the name and photo of a regular customer appear on the cashier’s screen when they are paying, as a means to authenticate a transaction.

And of course there are NFC-based services offered by mobile operators that enable users to tap and pay to complete a transaction.

And supermarkets want shoppers to pay for goods in the aisles rather than occupying checkout queues.

Of course, there is a downside for retailers. Shoppers equipped with mobile phones can damage their revenues if their strategy miscues. Already there is a threat from users scanning barcodes in-store and finding cheaper deals with rivals or online competitors.

And there is another danger. If special checkouts are set aside for mobile buyers then other customers will feel they are getting a rough deal as they see others fast tracked past them. Currently there is a certain equality in how queuing works, annoying though it is.

Secondly a widespread migration to a mobile system might promote efficiency to a certain point but if too popular then the queue is merely displaced online.

The colonel would probably know the answer. When his first restaurant failed after a new Interstate took away passing traffic, Sanders shifted his business model to franchising. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for how traditional retailers can deal with contemporary threats to their business. Today’s KFC stores have not gone as far as doing away with physical outlets but the colonel would appreciate their ingenuity.

The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.


  • Some interesting POV, Richard. A few thoughts back at you. GPS and Photo will be interesting at Starbucks with Square. Excellent idea, especially if they combine it with some hospitality and greet people by name. I could imagine it may scare a few people as well, but I’m sure all will be explained to them with the launch of the app.

    In regard to shoppers scanning their own products, this already happens in many stores with self scanning, it shouldn’t concern anyone.

    I was a little confused with your last point about KFC franchising after his first restaurant failed because the Interstate bypassed him. You don’t franchise because you picked a bad location. You franchise because you have a good system that will help other people make money and in doing so make more for you. Interstates are littered with fast food outlets that are well signposted and busy 24:7.


Richard Handford

Richard is the editor of Mobile World Live’s money channel and a contributor to the daily news service. He is an experienced technology and business journalist who previously worked as a freelancer for many publications over the last decade including...

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