The journey to our tech pivot started with our app

David Murphy

Camile Thai Kitchen Founder, Brody Sweeney, explains how launching an app led to a complete rethink of what the company is.

Research has shown that 90 per cent of mobile users spend their time in apps over mobile websites. Consumers are becoming increasingly discerning about which apps they host on their smartphones. Innovation, personalisation and experience are now crucial more than ever to an app’s success – take Uber and AirBnb as two examples. Their shared service and collaboration innovations, such as splitting the fare, have placed them miles ahead of competitors.

While app delivery has become the norm, if you cast your mind back to 10 years ago, this was still a pretty novel and magical experience. Now the game is no longer about getting items from point A to B, it’s about really adding value at every step of the entire experience chain to attain and attract customers and increase sales.

Online food ordering is currently seeing massive growth, driven by the pandemic. This is especially true for Camile, the UK’s fastest growing Thai chain, which has so far thrived in 2020, with a 50 per cent growth in sales. Camile has 35 outlets across Ireland and the UK, including six in London, and we have a delivery-first model, with our hubs based in strategic suburban areas. 

The app experience for the restaurant sector is particularly competitive. Consumers want to be able to select and order the dishes they want as quickly and as painlessly as possible, but when it comes to food, the experiential aspect of an app is of particularly huge importance.

Although Camile lost its eat-in component during lockdown, home delivery services soared at the same time. Over 50 per cent of Camile’s sales now come through our latest purpose-built app, which hit the market in 2019. However, for us, the app isn’t simply about sales.

The creation process gave us a channel to provide a more authentic experience beyond the generic apps which many restaurants use and to look at new ways of reaching our customers in a far more personalised way. Having our own app also provided ways to promote exclusive Camile deals in a personalised way that appeals most to our customers.

However, I believe that the biggest gain by far from building our own app was that the process led us to question and explore other ways in which tech would set us apart from our competitors. We could have made the decision in the early days to go with a Just East or a Flipdish approach. Admittedly, though the cost benefits of funneling sales through our own app were an initial impetus behind this decision, we soon realised the far greater strategic advantages of having our own channel to be able to communicate directly with our customers.

One year on and the team is currently preparing to launch drone deliveries as early as next year. Once the service is live, customers will be able to simply select a square on Google Maps to which their order should be delivered. The food is cooked and loaded into one of the drones, which takes off to around 400ft and flies at around 50mph to the allocated delivery space. A text message lets the customer know that the drone has arrived, at which point it drops to 40ft and the food is lowered on a piece of biodegradable string into the square selected. The technology works perfectly and it cheaper, faster and of course far more environmentally friendly than traditional delivery methods. The team at Camile is also in the process of building robotics into our kitchens to automate some aspects of operations and free up staff to engage in other aspects of the business.

Once you start on the digital transformation journey, it becomes pretty addictive – the possibilities are simply endless. By investing so much in our app experience, the process really opened our eyes as to what else we could achieve. Our strategy is now to become a logistics company which uses tech to prepare and deliver Thai food. I’m not sure that that revelation would have flowed as easily had we not invested so much time and resources into our app.

I believe that non-tech native companies who really invest in their app experience can reap similar benefits as it allows them to really envisage the company mission through an entirely different lens, and this creative process can really help to open new doors.

Constant digital adoption is no longer an added advantage, but a necessity for the quick-service restaurant industry in 2020. It is in a period of forced innovation, which in some respects may prove a silver lining for those who can leverage the growth opportunity. We believe that, moving forward, the big winners in the sector will be those who can offer their own app, and with it find new channels and ways to innovate their customer experience and operations.