Taco Bell's Mobile In-Store Program Good, But It Could Be Far Better

Offering free Wi-Fi in-store is hardly a new technique, when its goal is to simply make your store a more inviting place to hang out. Taco Bell is using Wi-Fi chainwide as a very specific tactic—one designed to move customers from the drive-thru to the store, where ticket sizes tend to be larger.

But the chain's mobile move is missing most of the value of mobile, and this is especially disappointing given that the free Wi-Fi is part of a major in-store television rollout. The chain's 5,600 locations will have video throughout the store that will "feature engaging content such as music, lifestyle, entertainment and sports, and also free Wi-Fi to keep our consumers connected with their friends." That sounds fine, although it's supremely vague, even for a news release. ("Hmmmm. What type of engaging content will you offer?" "Entertainment." "You sold me.")

But here's where it starts to get sad. "Guests will be able to interact with the network by downloading music seen on our show, receiving opt-in text messages, engaging in social media campaigns and accessing free Wi-Fi." Receive opt-in texts? Is that informational—as in "alert me if severe weather is suddenly predicted for the area I am in" or "message me if there's news on any of the following keywords"—or is it merely ads?

There will be two types of video in the store: silent screens near POS and larger audio screens everywhere else. Why not have a large number of channels and enable mobile devices—while on the store's Wi-Fi network—to select preferred channels for the nearest screen? This approach might require customers to interact over the choice of content or, better yet, groups might come in specifically to choose and watch.

A dozen people in the back corner have chosen a sporting event, while this other group by the south exit is watching a movie. And perhaps a large number of content pieces—beyond music—could be downloaded to mobile devices?

The point is that Taco Bell has gone all the way to creating a consumer Wi-Fi environment and set up mobile-to-device interactions. So why not take the next step and truly make its stores a destination where people want to visit?

What about POS integration? Enable people to take tables immediately and use their mobile device to interact with video screens and place their orders? A response text could alert them the order is ready to be picked up.

When even Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart have figured out the value of giving in-store mobile users truly valuable exclusive content, it's time to rethink whether you're taking your mobile integration far enough.