Push button, get tacos: Order-ahead a hit with restaurant app users

Mmm ... tacos.
Mmm ... tacos.

People love convenience. They also love tacos. Combine the two, and you could have a winning strategy for a mobile app.

That’s one highlight from the latest ranking of retail apps by Applause, a Boston-based company that helps businesses test and monitor the quality of their smartphone apps.

In its latest report, Applause’s ARC research unit sifted through a flood of app-store reviews to identify trends in the world of retail, a diverse group of businesses that includes restaurants, e-commerce sites, outdoor equipment stores, and digital coupon peddlers.

The research started with the nearly 2 million retail apps that have collected more than 200 ratings and reviews on the iOS or Android app stores. Applause then narrowed its focus to the 95 most popular from this group.

Applause’s new study, released Tuesday, is its second annual report on retail apps. Keeping an eye on which apps showed big changes in consumer sentiment revealed some interesting trends.

Taco Bell, for example, saw its quality ratings more than double since last fall. Applause pegged that spike to a new “order-ahead” feature, which lets hungry taco lovers select their meal on their way to the store so it will be ready when they approach the counter.

Taco Bell introduced the feature in October, making it the latest fast-food retailer to embrace mobile app users. Chipotle, Subway, and Pizza Hut also allow app users to order ahead of time, and Dunkin’ Donuts recently said it is developing mobile ordering services that could include delivery options.

Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks, however, is seen as the leader in the mobile food-and-beverage economy. The company’s mobile app, which lets people pay at the counter by scanning a code, had 13 million active users and represented about 16 percent of Starbucks’ overall transactions in 2014.

Starbucks also offers an order-ahead option, which it expanded to some 3,400 stores across the country this summer after a regional test in the Northwest. Starbucks says its mobile ordering option will be available nationwide by the end of the year.

Consumers seem to be responding: Starbucks also saw a big spike in favorable reviews since last fall’s previous Applause app quality report.