walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

The Promise and Present Realities of Virtual Waiting, part the first

Kate Taylor over at Business Insider has been posting some interesting items in the consumer/retail space, which includes Travel and Food and Bev. I've blogged about her posts in the past (I definitely remember blogging about her week eating fast food). More recently, she has booked a vacation through Costco Travel, and enjoyed it while also noting that it was extremely convenient and her online research indicated she also received good value for money.

However, as interesting as all these pieces have been, her posts about Starbucks Mobile Ordering woes have been the ones I can't quite stop thinking about. I'll nod about the difficulties of ordering reasonable food at fast food places. I'll tell my husband to take a look at the Costco Travel options occasionally. But Mobile Ordering looks like one of those wave of socio-technological innovation thingies just waiting to happen.

The short form about mobile ordering is simple: it isn't clear that it saves any time _standing in line waiting_ versus going into the store, waiting in line and ordering. The stores are not designed to cope with the backup in drinks that can happen when someone posts a large mobile order but isn't _right there_ to pick it up when it is ready.

I'm betting they can figure out a way around the latter problems. Starbucks, as Taylor notes in at least some of her coverage, is working on store redesign, as are individual stores. I cannot tell you how happy I would be if a bunch of the merch went away. And it would make sense to replace merch with people engaging with the core business -- merch is what you do to intensify a limited existing customer base. If mobile ordering actually takes off, they should be able to do a lot more core business out of the same physical footprint, which is a better deal that leaving merch sitting around waiting to be light fingered and/or destroyed and/or rendered irrelevant by seasonal changes.

But the first problem is key. Virtual waiting is _supposed_ to result in a shorter time spent physically standing in line, even if it results in a longer total delay before receiving whatever it is that you are waiting for. This is the net effect of the original FastPass at Disney. For example: you walk up to the ride. You see that it is a 45 minute wait in line to ride Roger Rabbit's ToonTown Spin. You see that the Return Time on Fastpass is 45 minutes in the future. You grab fastpasses, go play in the little playground a half hour while one of your party gets hot dogs, eat the hot dogs, and ultimately ride the ToonTown Spin while hoping the wee one doesn't urp it up during the ride, an hour after you originally looked at that 45 minute line. Even tho it took you an extra 15 minutes to get on the ride, you also got lunch, and the wee one got to kick it in the playground instead of kicking you and everyone around you while getting increasingly hangry waiting for Roger Rabbit which, while an awesome ride, is not obviously worth a 45 minute wait in line.

If, however, you return with your FastPass to ride Roger (that sounds naughty!) and you wind up waiting 45 minutes in line, you are going to have non-cartoon steam coming out of you because you will be angry. There is an expectation that there will be some physical waiting in line with FastPass, Universal Front of the Line, etc. or when you return after being paged at a restaurant -- but it is supposed to be a _shorter_ wait than if you had just stood in whatever the standby equivalent was.

So how is Virtual Waiting working these days, and is it better than Regular Old Queuing?

On our most recent trip to Disney_land_, which still has Old Skool FastPass, we were actually able to do precisely what I described (minus the playground and hotdog). A. and I would arrive at a ride which had FastPass, note that the Return Time and the queue time where equivalent, grab FastPasses, go do another ride or character meet and greet or shop or eat or whatever, and return to ride the ride. True, we were there in February, on the other hand, it was vacation week for a lot of people since the start of our trip was Presidents' Day weekend. I believe the primary reason this was actually working was because a lot of people had Space Mountain or Star Tours fastpasses for much later in the day, and thus could not exploit the FastPass system in the middle of the day. However, it could also be because Disney has done something to the FastPass system that was invisible to me that took heavy users out of the system. (Does anyone know? Like, are those cheap California passes prevented from using FastPass?) The Land is due to get a FastPass upgrade to MaxPass, which will connect to visitors phones and allow reservations, similar to the World. It will be a day-of reservation (different from the 30-60 day reservation window at the World), one at a time, $10 per ticket added cost, unclear what it will cost to add it to annual passes.

Disney has done a lot of experimenting with queues over the years. The FastPass system was an attempt to get rid of physical queuing (seriously, did not work out). Most of the rest of their queuing innovations have involved making waiting in line Fun, with varying degrees of success (Space Mountain video games are not bad, but the new Peter Pan queue at the World is arguably as good if not better than the ride itself, which is really should be, given how much time you spend in it).

Disney has a variety of show/ride hybrids with staged queues. Universal has these as well, and with the new Jimmy Fallon ride at Orlando, has made a component of the staging virtually queued; in conjunction with the exhibits, this is basically the same solution as the Double Dumbo. Double Dumbo at Disney not only doubled the ride capacity by having two Dumbos; it added a restaurant-style pager system. You wait in line to get a pager, then can play in the air conditioned, tented play area. When your pager goes, you can go ride Dumbo. But you don't have to just yet if you want to play longer. You still wait for the pager, and you wait after turning in your pager, but both waits are fairly short.

Many restaurants with pagers allow people with pagers to enter the lounge or bar, roughly the food and bev equivalent of looking at the exhibits at the Jimmy Fallon ride or playing in the air conditioned Dumbo playground. You have something to do while you are waiting and can go use the 'strooms without requiring one of your party to wait in a physical line. But none of these distractions (or added attractions, depending on how optimistic you are) seem applicable to Starbucks' conundrum.

I cannot help but think that Starbucks has really bitten off a problem for itself, however. There are way too many people who will do Just One More Thing. And Just One More Thing can lead to quite a delay in picking up a hot (or cold) coffee beverage. This would seem to guarantee a worse experience consuming the beverage, a problem which does not occur with waiting in lines to see shows, go on rides or eat a sit down meal in a restaurant. I hope they figure it out. And I'm wondering if the solution is going to look something like, we won't even bother to start your order until your phone's GPS shows you approaching the restaurant.

The Uberization of mobile ordering. Mmmmm. Buzzword stew.
Tags: our future economy today

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.