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Retailers Should Look to QSRs for Inspiration

chik fil a
Fast-food brands such as Chick-fil-A set the bar high on what’s possible across other brick-and-mortar experiences. (Photo via Shutterstock)

In my fashion retail days, we used to call it patterning: the intentional act of studying the strategy of your competitors. At JLL, my current firm, we refer to it as conducting competitive audits. Other colleagues sometimes use the term retail safaris.

Regardless of how you refer to your efforts to study the competition, I urge everyone to watch quick-service restaurants/fast-food restaurants. If you are not, you are missing some critically important information.

Why study QSRs? The playing field has changed, and you are no longer competing for share of wallet with your direct competitors. You are competing for share of mind, share of trips, and loyalty with a new set of retail experiences outside of your own category, and you need to understand who is setting the bar. Right now, QSRs are the new gold standard.

The innovation for speed became a consumer requirement. Fast-food brands such as Chick-fil-A set the bar high on what’s possible across other brick-and-mortar experiences. In fact, Big Red Rooster’s, a JLL company, recent survey found almost half of consumers state they wished retail was as fast as their fast-food experience. Consumers want their “everyday” categories such as drug stores, grocery stores and beauty stores to offer quick in-and-out shopping experiences.

While this transition brought with it opportunities for advancement in the industry, it challenged many retailers to find ways to meet the changing consumer demands. At first, partnerships with third-party delivery apps and then curbside pick-up were the answers for retailers to keep up with consumer demand, but this is a period of continuous, unprecedented change. Foodservice brands proved there are ways to offer ultra-fast fulfilments and frictionless convenience, and retailers were quickly adjusting.

According to Big Red Rooster’s survey, 63%  of consumers want their product immediately without the wait, so the need to invest in speed is critical but it must be implemented without sacrificing all tactile, touch-and-feel experience that sets brick-and-mortar retail apart.

In addition to speed, today’s consumer also expects convenience – another hallmark of fast-food experiences, which, again, are setting benchmarks for what’s possible in the physical space. A huge component of convenience, beyond the ease of shopping in-store, is the option for ultra-fast, seamless order fulfillment. Though there is opportunity to improve these in foodservice, too, our survey found that consumer satisfaction is slightly higher with the pick-up and delivery of food.

Consumers want their “everyday” categories such as drug stores, grocery stores and beauty stores to offer quick in-and-out shopping experiences.

Looking Forward
As we design next-generation pick-up and delivery experiences for retail, fast-food experiences can serve up inspiration. Ideas such as pre-populated fitting rooms based on consumers’ online carts or secure, 24-hour pick-up lockers could be the answer for some.

In addition to optimizing pick-up and delivery, retailers should consider updates to their in-store wayfinding and communications with solutions such as mobile content designed for in-store browsing and selection. These are how we’ll make shopping easy and seamless for the consumer.

As retail continues to reinvent itself, and brick-and-mortar plays an important role in the industry. In June 2022, department stores’ foot traffic rose 5.8% from the previous month, according to, showing consumers are heading back to stores because they know what to expect shopping and want the in-person shopping experience. According to Big Red Rooster research, instant gratification is one of the top reasons consumers choose to go to brick-and-mortar stores.

While companies like Amazon and Instacart provide same- or next-day delivery, customers still express the desire to go into physical stores. You know what to expect at the store, and there’s a certain level of control that consumers crave – a level that’s not necessarily available through online retailers.  At the store, consumers can pick the bananas they want or try on the shoes before they buy.  

Retail should continue to be experiential, and retailers need to think more closely about consumer expectations and where they’re being set. It’s not just about what your competition is doing anymore; consumer expectations are being set all around us, and restaurants are leading the way. It’s time for specialty retailers to take note or risk falling further behind. 

As we conceive of what’s next for specialty retail, in both experience design and format strategies, consideration should be placed on ideas that have been championed and popularized by QSRs. Consumers are especially open to ideas that relieve pain points around the browsing, purchasing and pick-up phases of the journey.

Communication is key and staying community-curious will help you to stay in sync with your consumers’ wants and needs, keeping your brand relevant and top-of-mind. Think pop-up shops and creative partnerships in malls and shopping centers that bring the community together. The retail experience has yet another opportunity to reinvent itself, with togetherness at its core. In addition to baseline expectations around speed and convenience.

At Big Red Rooster, we frequently conduct competitive audits, and that’s not going to change. However, we have also become continuous students of retail, analyzing the consumer experience every single time we are in a brick-and-mortar environment, whether with our clients, for our prospects or just going about our day-to-day lives. I encourage you to open your aperture and do the same.

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