How TGI Fridays is using mobile commerce as a driver for digital transformation

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed October 14, 2016
What would you do if you found yourself on a one person team, charged with driving digital transformation for a global restaurant brand? That's exactly what TGI Fridays' Gail Seanor took on. At the SAP Hybris Summit, Seanor told me of her progress after fifteen months, starting with e-commerce and heading towards something much bigger.

TGI Fridays - mobile app
You might not think of a TGI Fridays as a retailer, waging the same storefront/omni-channel struggle as, say, Nordstrom. But Gail Seanor, Sr. Director, Marketing Technology at TGI Fridays, sees the parallels. As she said to me at the SAP Hybris Summit in Fort Lauderdale:

I've had a number of people say "Wow, TGI Fridays is at this conference?" Well, we are retail - it's just a different widget that we sell. I just don't ship to you in quite the same way.

Rewind fifteen months. That's when Seanor joined TGI Fridays, taking on a brand new role. Her job: act like a startup. Spark the digital transformation with a web and mobile app overhaul. Fifteen months later, those projects are live, but the push towards a digital, or - if you don't mind the buzzwords - a fluid omni-channel business, is just beginning. During our sit down, Seanor told me what she's learned - and what lies ahead.

Digital is more than an app - "We have really just scratched the surface"

From day one, Seanor avoided the point solutions mindset. She framed the e-commerce projects as part of a much bigger play:

In the restaurant industry and in casual dining, there are places where we needed to evolve. Initially, digital expanded the website and the app. But one of the things we tried to get people to understand is that digital can be and is so much more. We have really just scratched the surface. Transformation is the story. We are committed to it. We didn't necessarily just toe dip in it. We leveraged Hybris; we leveraged Adobe. But we didn't just leverage point solutions, if you will.

Seanor in post-interview fun mode

Consumer economics and new eating options have raised the stakes in casual dining. But Seanor didn't just want a more competitive mobile app; she wanted the omni-channel assets to reflect that TGI Fridays brand experience. Exactly what is that experience? Well, there's a fifty-plus year history to consider, from founding Ladies Night to inventing certain drinks. TGI Fridays wants consumers to enjoy more - and worry less. Their online experience must meet that standard:

We were very much founded on things that were a transformation - things that are fun. Now the question is: how can we take advantage of that technology, and really infuse it back in competitive differences?

Managing a fifteen month whirlwind

But you earn organizational credibility with digital wins. So in the last fifteen months, Seamon's startup team - now at four - completely redid the TGI Fridays web site. They overhauled the mobile app, and launched mobile payments, as well as online ordering. But why the overhaul? That's easy: Their prior assets weren't properly engaging people. And the architecture was, well, not modern.

Seamon's project changed that. They selected SAP Hybris for e-commerce, based largely on team member's past experience with the product: "We heavily leveraged Hybris for online ordering," says Seamon. The selection of SAP Hybris had two factors: e-commerce functionality was key. So was the potential for future omni-channel projects: "I wanted a seamless e-commerce system that gave us opportunities longer term," says Seamon.

Technically, the new web site went live in April 2016; online ordering went live at the end of July. I asked Seamon what it was like taking the first online order:

Somebody on my team was testing in a specific location. Then this woman showed up - she just happened to find it on the site and place an order. At that point, we were still just trying to kick the tires, and she was great. She was all excited - the people in our London restaurant gathered around her. She was like, "What did I do?"

How difficult was the implementation? I wanted to know because e-commerce projects are notorious for data integration hurdles. Seamon said that the biggest challenge was integrating with the point of sale systems, which "is not difficult, but you have to tweak it." She credited her implementation partner, Thinkwrap, for a job done well: "They have been absolutely great partners. They have have gotten to know our business, and helped us work through any challenges."

Talking ROI and other benefits - "the numbers speak for themselves"

When Seamon said, "The numbers are really speaking for themselves," I was intrigued. Usually, after a recent go-live, ROI is a lagging factor. Although Seamon isn't able to publicly disclose specific numbers, she did say that when it comes to mobile payment growth, "It is in the thousands of percent." She was understandably cautious about putting a big percentage like that out there, but the gist is: the new app is working out.

New and return visitors are increasing:

In many cases, this has actually led to new visitors or new guests for our brand - and they are repeat visitors. It is not just that they came and they came once; they are coming back.

Seamon's numbers are bolstered by feedback:

People are liking what they see. They are ordering online. Our mobile payments capability is getting far more usage than it has in the past.

Formal feedback through usability labs is also good:

We went to the usability labs, and people look at our product images on the site and app. I love to hear guests say "Oh, I can just see the juice on that tomato and it is mouth watering."

Another definition of a good app? No training required:

Some people would ask, "Do we need to teach our guests how to use [mobile payments]?" No, if you needed to teach the guests how to use it, we didn't do what we needed to do. We love the feedback that we get from guests and our franchisee partners, saying "It was so easy even I could do it."

Overcoming internal resistance - it's about transparency

As SAP's Tony Evans recently blogged on diginomica, every digital transformation project encounters resistance. So how did Seamon address it? Two words: communication and transparency. Seamon mentioned everything from Slack channels to town hall meetings. One critical task for her team: setting priorities - resources are not unlimited. She reaches out to finance, tax, legal, marketing, and the rest of the IT organization. Line of business heads also meet weekly to talk digital in a brand context:

We are all aligned on what's the collective good for the company and our guests. That part is also really important to us. If you take care of the guests, it will ultimately benefit the entire organization. That experience is so critical.

Seamon knows there is work ahead. The omni-channel experience is a truly tough nut to crack:

That is one of the things we are figuring out is: how do we really evolve a digital experience in our restaurants, both inside and outside the four walls. I don't want you to feel like you have a piece of equipment sitting at your table. From our lens, if you can see the technology, then the technology is not doing its job. All roads lead to our restaurants, but I want you to have a great experience across all.

The wrap - this is just the tip of the digital iceberg

What's next? Iterate and evolve, of course. But phase one can't be underestimated: it showed the entire company what was possible, and put a viable digital infrastructure in place. Sounds like there are nifty projects ahead:

There are some things I cannot elaborate on, but there are things we are probably going to do that are just drastically different than a typical Hybris use case.

One thing's for sure: the organizational silos are becoming fluid. Seamon:

The great thing that has come from this is the collaboration. Before digital, this was probably its own silo. What we are leading to is digital being infused into everything. Now, we are starting to really see the organization as a whole embrace that change. Everybody is saying, "Oh hey, 'what if we', 'can we'? It is truly transformational. It is exciting.

Oh, and starting next year, Seamon's team will be up to nine. In other words: she's ready to rock 'n roll.