Trend Alert: McDonald's smart menus

Trend Alert introduces you to the latest brands, products and services that are trending with 16-24s.

McDonald’s has acquired an intriguing AI startup that will enable their restaurants to optimise their menu boards based on trending products or even the weather. Last week, the fast food giant announced they had purchased Dynamic Yield, with a plan to use the startup’s “decision technology” to ensure the most relevant products are advertised to the customers visiting a store at any particular time.

The first step is to introduce smart menu signs outside drive-thru restaurants in the US, which will determine which products to highlight based on a number of factors, including weather, traffic, and purchasing trends for that specific restaurant. In practice, this could mean promoting McFlurry ice creams during a heatwave, or Happy Meals during the after school rush. The new technology can suggest items that are easier to make during peak hours so customers aren’t waiting too long for their food and drive-thru queues are shorter. It will also be used to optimise the McDonald’s mobile app and self-order kiosks for a more personalised service.

This is an example of what Vox describes as “the Amazon-ification of brick-and-mortar retail.” In order to compete with ecommerce, physical stores and restaurants need to learn from the tactics that make online retail efficient, exciting and rewarding for the customer.

In China, Alibaba’s Hema supermarket is pioneering this concept with dynamic pricing, tailored product recommendations and futuristic checkouts, ensuring the experience is just as convenient and personalised as ordering online. Back in the US, Walgreens is experimenting with tech that tracks customers around the store and serves them personalised ads as they browse the frozen food aisle, based on their age, gender and behaviour in-store.

Whether you find these innovations cool or creepy, they’re clearly a sign of the future of physical retail. Combined with experiential trends, this AI-driven optimisation of the shopping or eating out experience makes the future look a lot brighter for in-store brands.

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