Case Study: Seattle Office Caterer Grows Business With Mobile Payments

At Molly’s Salads in Seattle, Washington, founder Stefan Kalb knew he had a good idea when he began selling salads and sandwiches at busy office buildings last year. What he needed to make the business take off, however, was an easier way to collect payments from customers without being present in person. His solution? Seconds, a mobile commerce platform that customers can use to send payments via text message.

Tell me about Molly’s Salads. What makes you different from other lunchtime cafes in Seattle?
Basically, we stock refrigerators in offices full of our food, and whenever somebody wants to grab food out of there they pay for it — either online or through [text messaging]. Since our fridges are already in the offices, there’s not really any advertising to do. This is a pilot project, so we don’t have many [offices yet]. We are in about 16 right now. When we were launching this project, we just asked a few of [the offices]. Then from there, we started getting calls asking, “What is this? I really want to be a part of this.” It’s kind of grown through that.

How did people pay for your food before you started collecting mobile payments?
When we first started the pilot, people would pay online. They would go online and pay for it, but pretty quickly we had an issue where people were [saying], “This is taking me too long. I have to grab the food, go back to my computer, and click on the website.” That was really why we brought Seconds on. When we started working with Seconds, they were providing a service in our cafes where people could text their orders and get them made. I asked them, “Why can’t you just send in your order and then it automatically bills you?” and they said, “Well the only way to do that would be to somehow have a credit card on file which we would bill through our system.” So, they built this system where people can basically text their orders and it automatically charges their cards. Before, the user experience [involved] going up to the fridge, grabbing what they wanted, going all the way back to their [desk], logging into their account, putting in their credit card number, paying for the item they wanted, and finally checking out. Now, all [customers] have to do is go to the fridge, text the word SALAD, and then they are automatically charged.

How does Seconds work from your end, as the merchant?
From our end, it’s super simple. The technology just reads what [customers] text. So if they text SALAD, it just reads SALAD and automatically bills their card for whatever the price of a salad is. That is built right in. The sales go directly through us. We plug in our gateway, and it goes directly into our bank account. The only work we have to do is when somebody has an issue. When they say, “My card’s not working,” or “There’s none of this left in the fridge,” that comes straight to my email. I can respond through my email, and it goes straight to their phone. Everything is automatically billed, and then I can monitor how sales are going by going to my dashboard. [We’re charged] a fee per text message, so every time somebody texts us — even if it’s not for an order — we get charged [by Seconds].

What kind of feedback have you gotten about paying through texting so far?
The feedback is pretty amazing. Actually it’s kind of funny, the guys at Seconds emailed all of our customers, without my permission, asking how their service was. Although I was a little peeved that they did that, the customers came back with some amazing responses. They were stoked about how insanely convenient it is — not just having food in the fridge at their offices, but being able to text [their payments] and minimizing the time it takes the purchase something. The [team from Seconds] sent that email out, and within a day they got 25 responses, of which 24 of them were positive.

Have you noticed an uptick in business since you started accepting mobile payments?
Oh yeah, a massive one. When we started off, we were basically 100 percent website. Within the first month, Seconds took 30 percent of what the website was doing and it keeps chipping away. I think we are in the mid-30s now, in terms of the percentage of payments that are going through mobile. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have more than 50 percent worth of transactions going through Seconds by the time we really launch this to go big.

Do you use the Seconds platform for anything besides mobile payments?
Right now it is very simply for purchasing, but there is a lot of stuff I’d like to work on to be able to communicate more with customers to see what their experience was, what they need, and how we can change things. It’s already happening organically, where customers just start chatting with us via text message. That is definitely not something I was prepared for at all. A lot of people are night owls, so they will work in the middle of the night and I will randomly get an email at 11:00 saying, “Hey, have you ever thought about this kind of salad?” [Those messages] are all going to my email, or you can go to the dashboard and view them through the online portal. It has developed very interestingly in that way, but it has also made us think about how we want to communicate with those customers and [offer] customer service.

Have there been any challenges in using Seconds?
Oh yeah, there were tons of challenges getting started on this. I think a lot of them were because, for one, [customers] weren’t used to using anything like this. I don’t know of any other texting service where you just text the word and it charges you. So people had to take a little time to understand how this would work. We had a lot of customer service stuff that would come up, and then there were plenty of technical issues on [Seconds’] end to figure out. Like, for example, if someone is grabbing a sandwich and they type, “TURKEY SANDWICH,” versus just “SANDWICH,” how do you analyze that and how do you communicate to the customer that the correct thing to say is just “SANDWICH”? There have been a lot of those little technical issues. When somebody’s card doesn’t work, and they text the word and it tries to charge the card but it doesn’t work, where do we go from there? There are tons of these things that have been really well figured out in terms of online retail, but in terms of mobile it’s basically brand new to start thinking that way.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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