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McDonald's mulls 3D printing in stores as big data causes headaches

07 Nov 2013
McDonald's sign

MUNICH: McDonald's IT services director is faced with an increasingly tough set of challenges posed by the rise of an "always-on" society. Meanwhile, the firm continues to toy with the idea of new digital attractions for tech-savvy consumers, including 3D printing.

Speaking at the Fujitsu Forum in Germany, Mark Fabes explained how what he calls the "disruptive customer" is pushing demand for digital playthings, and what McDonald's is planning in response.

"Consumers now have this technology at their fingertips, so it's how you take that very tried-and-tested formula of good food fast and adapt that to the digital world and digital-savvy customers," he said.

3D printing could play a part in the firm's future, too. "As we know, you don't always get every toy in a set. So how about as part of a value exchange or as a reward to give the ability to reprint a toy in the restaurant?" He added that this was "just a thought" at the moment, however.

The firm is also testing in-restaurant use of tablet devices as well as touchscreen food-ordering kiosks. But Fabes admitted that every implementation of a new technology brings new risks and challenges, as well as opportunities.

"We've got to make sure they're always available. If a customer comes in to use one for the first time and it doesn't work, they don't bother again. It's incredibly important we get our infrastructure right," he said.

Big data analytics also presents a signficant challenge for McDonald's. While it is easily able to track sales of individual items around the world in real time, gaining customer insight has proven to be more difficult and is still not being utilised to its full potential.

A problem facing many businesses dealing with high-volume, low-value transactions is that many customers still use cash, therefore leaving no trail of information as to their buying habits. Interactive marketing campaigns can only go so far, and with no digitally based customer loyalty schemes, information is scarce.

Fabes admits the company is only in the very early stages of getting to know its customers in this way, and hasn't yet found a satisfactory solution.

"I have to say we're just thinking about what that data means to us," he said. "We're trying to get some customer insight as to what they want from us as a value exchange. We're not sure what that means for a McDonald's customer. My challenge within retail is that if you're not gaining insight on your customers, someone else is." 

Technologies such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the Internet of Things may also play a part in buying decisions; kitchen equipment such as fryers and fridges could eventually become part of what Fabes called the "integrated restaurant", communicating with one another in order to balance power consumption when one appliance is using a lot of energy.

The challenges faced by McDonald's are mirrored in the rest of the business world, particularly its big data headaches. 3D printing also has a future in retail, with Tesco telling V3 in September that it sees the technology as an area of interest.

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Michael Passingham

Michael Passingham joined V3 as a reporter in June 2013. Prior to working at V3, Michael spent time at computing magazine PC Pro. Michael covers IT skills, social media, tech startups and also produces V3's video content.

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