Chowbus is an online food ordering and delivery platform, like Grubhub, Uber Eats, or DoorDash Inc. but they’re on a mission to bring high-quality, authentic Asian foods to their consumers. So while you can only get the mainstream sushi rolls and curries from other delivery services, Chowbus dishes up spicy Szechuan dishes, hot pot options, and desserts from cream puffs to boba.
Founded in 2016 based out of Chicago, IL, Chowbus is currently available in 22 U.S. cities such as New York City, Boston, Atlanta, and Seattle, and 2 Canadian cities, Toronto and Vancouver, with a continuously growing network. Moreover, this niche market that Chowbus targets are connecting diners to Asian food from local mom and pop businesses; no chains! Their services also offer a unique “bundling” feature that allows users to select dishes from multiple restaurants in a single delivery with no added fees.
What’s more about Chowbus is their mission to serve the community:
“When we say we’re true partners to the restaurants we work with, we mean it. By eliminating hidden fees, helping them showcase their best dishes, and other efforts we make on their behalf, we really go the extra mile to help our restaurant partners succeed,” said Chowbus’ chief executive. “We only succeed if they do.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic and surge of anti-Asian sentiment, I want to look at how to help Asian-owned businesses continue operating. And that’s when I came across Chowbus.
UX Review of Chowbus mobile app: ease of use, a low learning curve
Before we start, I want to preface with yes, I read the reviews on the app and was hesitant to include them because customer-service-wise Chowbus has a low legitimacy and safety score but a high app rating. I attribute this to the lack of drivers for deliveries and their delivery radius being quite large. If users can bundle items from different restaurants, it should be expected that deliveries can take up to a couple of hours when accounting for cook time and traffic. This information is, in my opinion, unrelated to the experience in the app and while ordering.
After downloading the app, it loads pretty quickly! Before the user is taken to the onboarding screen, they are prompted with a language preference. Evidently, the target audience for Chowbus are Chinese and Asians, and Asian Americans. I think this is neat and hope that in the future it will expand to possibly other languages, like Vietnamese.
After loading into the app, the splash screen finally shows “Best Asian Food, Delivered”, describing the niche market and cuisine-specific approach that Chowbus is taking. I would have preferred this on the loading screen as a little reminder of what I opened (even though the app logo implies food.)
The food glamour shots remind me of the Kitchen Stories food app.
Selecting “Start the journey” leads to a typical login page with options to ease the process with Google, Facebook for Apple. There are more subtle options below to sign up or log in with email. What caught my eye was “See today’s menu” so I clicked on that instead.
Clicking on the small link leads to “Enter Address” which includes a skip button. This is often a good approach to provide flexibility for new users who aren’t ready to sign up yet. After skipping the address input, the screen displays a call-to-action (CTA) for free delivery on the first order. Sweet! An incentive to start ordering.
After this, “See today’s menu” leads to seeing deals, access to Delivery, Pickup, and Groceries. I’m able to freely browse and add things to the cart but to view my cart, I’m prompted to sign in to an account.
Signing in/up for an account
Similar to other food delivery apps such as Grubhub, you have to log into the app or create an account to continue to see the items in your cart. However, without adding an address before this step, users risk being outside of the delivery range. Since Chowbus is only available in ~25 cities, this assumes the user already knows whether or not Chowbus delivers to their neighborhood.
I chose “Continue with Facebook” which then prompted for a phone number, and for security reasons, a code is going to be sent to the phone number. These screens are straight-forward with the instructions and prompts.
Encouraging empty states and profile settings
Aside from no hidden fees for bundling food items into a complete meal (something savory + something sweet), Chowbus has rewards as an incentive to get ordering. Their ‘Rewards empty’ state tells users that they can earn free food with purchases while in the ‘Orders’ button if there are no orders, there is a sweet message indicating that.
A user’s profile can be accessed through the gear-shaped icon after logging in. Here, a snapshot of their credit and rewards appear towards the top with other setting options below.
Most of the options serve a single purpose such as selecting a language, setting the default city, and turning off ‘Marketing Email’. These options are descriptive and straightforward.
Back on Profile, scrolling down reveals a ‘Need Help?’ option that only appears after logging in so if a user gets stuck somehow during any of the sign-in steps, they might just delete the app entirely.
Powered by Intercom, the help feature shows who is available to answer questions. This humanizes the customer experience by building trust that there is someone (not a robot) on the other side of the app. I am a little puzzled why it asks from a language preference again because that seems redundant from launching the app but maybe Intercom and Chowbus don’t share that information.
Users can type their questions into the textbox and hit ‘Send’. When a person becomes available as you continue to scroll through the app, a little chat bubble pops up for you to continue your conversation. This is a neat little chatbot feature.
Chowbus look and feel
Chowbus does well to utilize a familiar look and feel from already existing apps but stands out by leading with user discoverability through promos and bundling options.
Yelp is probably a fan-favorite food app because it’s super easy to use. What Chowbus has in common with Yelp and Uber Eats is the UI setup. The app’s navigation at the bottom (very common for mobile apps), a search bar top-center, content/categories loaded with scrolling up and down, and more of the same category are displayed scrolling left to right.
As a new user, it was easy to tap through the navigation items and find something yummy to order. Because Chowbus has a familiar UI to other better-known apps, there is a low-barrier to submitting my first order successfully.
User discoverability and recommendations
There are preset categories to guide the search for new users hoping to explore the options rather than search starting a blind search. If I wanted to try a new boba place, I can search by popularity based on start ratings and pick from the list.
After picking a restaurant, a popup suggests that there are other restaurants in the area that can be “bundled.”
Unlike other food delivery apps that have a delivery minimum and fee per restaurant, Chowbus gives diners flexibility in building a complete meal from select nearby restaurants. To view other menus, keep them checked. To stick with just bubble tea, uncheck the other restaurants and continue to view the menu.
Restaurant promos are highlighted near the top, helping users find deals without scrolling.The hierarchy of information is promos, Special Notes, My Rewards, and feature deals (such as Buy One Get One) before featured menu items.
Scrolling up or down displays menu items one by one with an enticing image and a quick-add button that expands into customization details such as no ice, less sugar, etc.
If the user selects to bundle with other restaurants, swiping left or right displays other restaurant menus. This is nice for comparing items and prices between the restaurants before adding them to the cart.
Other ways that Chowbus makes recommendations for users is through curated lists and last-minute suggestions during checkout. You may very well enter checkout with more food items than you anticipated!
Conclusion: Chowbus app is worth a taste!
As a relatively new food app that has grown in popularity during the pandemic, Chowbus has found a niche in Asian cuisine and groceries. They have a solid UI but like any app, it’s a work in progress that could use optimizations. What I absolutely love about Chowbus that makes it stand out among other food apps are the bundling option and guided recommendations. Despite having a search bar, it’s more fun to browse the offerings and snag a good deal than to limit me to the restaurants or items that appear in the search.
With the driving mission of helping local Asian-own businesses grow their food audience, Chowbus is supporting the Asian community’s continued success and the spread of authentic foods. If you’re looking for good Chinese food, your best bet is Chinatown so if you’re looking for something a little more than Panda Express delivery, your best bet is Chowbus. Cheers to chowing down new delicious meals and supporting Asian-owned businesses!
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