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Revelations In Hong Kong

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By Jonee C. Bilasano

Trying to follow a packed schedule is akin to riding a car on full throttle. Every stop seems to be a blur; the completion of planned activities becomes primordial. This is what I went through in my first two days in Hong Kong.

My first stop was the sneaker street in Mongkok. After that, I went to HK Disneyland and then shopped in various malls. For the heck of it, I rode the train without any specific destination. The pace was frenetic.

But on the third day, I was forced to slow down. I had nothing to do. I encountered a full stop.

With no plan in mind, I decided to take a stroll. With no schedule to follow, I rested my mind and allowed my feet to take over. My method turned out to be fruitful. I made my way to the Kowloon station and discovered the “city garden,” a place where one can sit down, relax, and take in the sights. I had quite the experience.

Seeing the Hong Kong harbor, from a sweeping vantage point, provided a serene thrill. The feeling of just kicking back with nothing to think about except look at the water, feel the breeze, and watch the ships sail provided a meditative experience. I immersed myself in the moment and stayed there till the sun went down and the stars came out.




The serenity, however, had to end. One of my body parts made its presence felt. My stomach started to rebel. I forgot to have dinner. I’ve been so consumed with entertaining myself that I neglected my tummy.

With hunger taking centerstage, I had to leave the relaxing confines of the city garden and this time walk with purpose.

Forced to take the most accessible and familiar comfort food, I chanced upon a McDonalds store in the Kowloon area. Little did I know that further revelations awaited me. I noticed an odd sight. Customers inputted their orders via self-service kiosks and then paid for their meals via point-of-sale machines (POS). I couldn’t believe my eyes.

As I marveled at the technology before me, I began to see things in crystal fashion. I reviewed the status quo in my mind.

If the meal is fast food, the client in turn lines up, waits for his or her turn, and then informs the cashier what he or she wants. The customer issues the payment after that process. In casual or fine dining segments, the guest tells the waiter his or her order. The payment is given at the conclusion of the meal. In both cases, human intervention comes in the form of the cashier and waiter.

But after witnessing what McDonalds had done, I realized that existing practices and paradigms — especially in the cash collections and food service businesses — may be set for disruptions. All indications point to that eventuality; the irrefutability of the evidence cannot be denied. McDonalds in Hong Kong proves that cash isn’t indispensable anymore as a mode of payment. That’s a staggering thought.

From a retail standpoint, those who want to eat don’t have to worry if fast food stores can accept their debit or credit cards. People can now go to a McDonalds store and pay for their food using their cards. They don’t have to carry cash anymore, or run to the nearest ATM to get some. All these are good developments, because the carrying of cash admittedly can be a nuisance especially if you have a lot of bills or coins.

From a corporate or company point of view, allowing the full use use of debit or credit cards in food service not only makes bills and coins unnecessary but also renders other businesses obsolete. Deposit or cash pick up comes to mind.

In the Philippines, my country of origin, deposit or cash pick up is relatively lucrative. Such an endeavor can demand high margins since the logistics that come with it are expensive. And owing to the solution’s niche nature, the only companies that deal with a lot of cash — like food retail — avail themselves of the service.

McDonalds’s innovation however threatens the cash and deposit pickup business. Because if food service companies resort to fully utilizing debit and credit cards, then there is nothing to be fetched. Food retail corporations have no choice since its burgeoning market called the millennial segment does not like to use cash.

But it isn’t just the cash management side that is on the cusp of change and disruption. The food service’s labor and finance components may evolve as well.

Cashiering may have to go. The same goes with waiters. McDonalds’s innovation after all has made it possible for customers to get their desired orders minus any human intervention. And as a consequence, operational expenditures will go down; incidents of in-house or qualified theft may decrease. I’m sure management will embrace these developments.

But what makes all these developments worthwhile is that customers won’t feel any adverse effects. Clients still get their meals. It doesn’t matter if the mode of payment is via a debit or credit card. Guests being fed is the ultimate barometer.

With all these upcoming and inevitable changes, what should those businesses involved in cash pick up and food service companies do?

Adjusting is a given. It would be folly not to even think of having to modify present practices while the tide of change comes sweeping in. The time to move has come.

Businesses involved in cash pick up should consider extending the lifecycle of the service and be ready to either reposition the same or stop it if profits are not anymore coming in. Food service corporations must prepare for the time when their customers won’t use cash. This in turn leads to the formation of new cash management strategies ,especially those related to the collections side.

As I was still deep in thought and trying to imagine the other possibilities when I felt another nudge, a poke or disturbance if you will. My tummy growled again, and reminded me to stop thinking and eat. So, for the meantime, I halted the analyzing or at least I tried to.

Because as I devoured the burger and fries in front of me, a notion lingered in my mind. Maybe next time I don’t have to input my order. All I have to do is to swipe my ID, pay via Bitcoin, and let artificial intelligence or robotics take care of the rest. I’ll wait while my food is arranged and customized the way I like it. That, however, is another story, another revelation waiting to be discovered.

Jonee C. Bilasano is a banker by profession.

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