The Subway restaurant chain has the same name as underground transit, but like many organizations, it's taking its cues from a different kind of transportation provider.

"That is the goal and direction for us...to make payments invisible like Uber does," said Carman Wenkoff, global chief information officer and chief digital officer for the Subway sandwich chain. "That would be the best customer experience."

Subway is reimagining how ordering, payments and marketing tie together at its sandwich shops. It's in the process of launching a new division called Subway Digital, which will pool the expertise of specialists in technology, marketing and operations rather than give full rein to any one of those disciplines.

"We launched digital initiatives in the past but they were driven by the technology angle or from the marketing side and not necessarily from the full customer customer experience," Wenkoff said. "We want to bring everyone together in an incremental way to reinvent the customer experience."

Uber has become an inspiration for retailers' efforts to tie customer engagement to transactions, based on its ability to embed payments almost invisibly into the experience.

At Subway, the digital team will develop a way to push payments into the background, making it a less invasive part of an overall experience that includes ordering and coupon receipt and redemption across channels. That is a long-term goal, and the specifics will come about based on signals the company gets from its customers.

"We want to give consumers a choice of payment and make that invisible," Wenkoff said. "Sometimes there is a 'best deal' logic when deploying mobile or a new app or marketing program, but not everyone wants that. You can't make assumptions about what people will want to use."   

This initiative must also be balanced against the company's existing IT commitments. Subway is about halfway through its EMV migration—it expects all U.S. stores to be EMV compliant by the end of June—and it's also supporting almost all new third party mobile wallets. Subway was an initial supporter of Apple Pay, for example.

Subway, which is working with Accenture on its new customer experience initiative, is also changing how it delivers marketing programs such as coupons and special offers, improving how it tracks offers and redemptions.

Coupons and offers in the quick serve industry are usually paper-based and hard to manage, according to Wenkoff, adding digital coupons delivered to an app suffer from the same challenges.

In the quick service industry, coupons are also complicated by the franchise model, which by regulation gives franchisees more autonomy than a local big box store manager has. For example, a corporate parent cannot impose price points or mandate discounts, which underpin most marketing offers. Zaxby's, a southern fried chicken chain, is also managing accounting and cross-franchise agreements as it places more of its marketing and payments onto its mobile app.  

"The digital solutions need to solve for that, to make sure to check if the franchise accepts that form of coupon or if it has it programmed into its point of sale system and make sure that works as frictionless as possible," Wenkoff said.

Subway is shipping Verifone scanners to its restaurants. These scanners, which attach to point of sale hardware, can have multiple uses in the future, though their primary short term use is to make it easier to handle coupons as soon as they are issued at the point of sale. This would reduce the instances of consumers receiving a coupon in one store and trying to use it in another that doesn't accept it, Wenkoff said.

"Conventional marketing channels are shrinking while digital channels continue to grow exponentially," said Rick Oglesby, president of AZPayments. "Particularly for businesses that require large consumer audiences, a comprehensive digital approach is becoming mandatory and addressing organizationally like Starbucks is often the only way to fully address the marketing transformation."

General consumer response and engagement, rather than predetermined metrics will drive strategic adjustments, Wenkoff said.

"If the customer downloads our app, or scans a bar code through a partner in the future, we want the experience to be consistent and engaging. There's a tremendous amount of complexity that has to be managed behind the scenes to make that happen," Wenkoff said.

Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the payments industry

14-Day Free Trial

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the industry