Hacking Foodpanda to get 50% off orders

Stacking massive discounts due to questionable UI design choices

7-min read

I have a love-hate relationship with delivery platforms. In this write-up, I’ll leverage the latest foodpanda iOS update — which introduced cute animations for some unfortunate routing regressions — and combine multiple discounts to save close to 45% per order. Skip to the ‘Process’ section for the meat ‘n gravy.

Premise

On one hand, I enjoy the convenience of sitting at home and not lifting a finger while someone delivers my chicken shawarma. On the other, I detest the competitive liberties and cutthroat business practices these companies undertake to unduly take advantage of the suffering food & beverage industry. Barring stranger danger (or the fear of riders eating your food) and unscrupulous business decisions, I do believe these unicorns have added some value, but by charging restaurants obscene fees (close to 30%!!), they might be doing more harm than good. Especially during a pandemic, where does one draw the ethical line on the proverbial plate? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Manic work hours (9-7) and the obligation to stay until your superior is at the office in Hong Kong limits the time one spends at home. This translates to most of your meals being take-outs or deliveries. Enter foodpanda, which eases the entire process at the expense of restaurant profit margins. I was driven towards them for a few reasons:

  1. Heavy social-distancing restrictions prohibited eating-in at restaurants

  2. HK doesn’t have a huge culture of home cooking (limited kitchen space and my inability to prepare a decent meal — I’ll blame it on Mageirocophobia)

  3. I don’t have a whole lot of choices, besides Deliveroo, the other major player,

  4. foodpanda had one of the more sophisticated React codebases, which I truly appreciate (and this made it easier to scrape information from my projects).

And so my journey with foodpanda was off to the races, albeit to a bumpy ethical start. I was a power user, an active daily user, and I was contributing a significant chunk of my monthly income to their service. Over time, I grew to understand their rationale for converting users through their funnel via usual tactics, whether that involved reducing the number of clicks on the checkout page to make purchasing food easier or offering a minimum 20% discount for pickup orders, and I fully intended to take advantage of these deals.

Too many clicks spoil the browse.

Enter every startup’s unique Marketing Department. Also enter: massive savings for the price-conscious consumer.

Deliveroo Plus and PandaPro subscriptions and their respective benefits. Prices in HKD. Post-March ‘21, Foodpanda is the same price as Deliveroo, though I was grandfathered into their plan.

I broke even pretty early, and this doesn’t include my natural inclination of spending more per order (which usually happens when one uses these platforms) — I’ve averaged a pretty consistent 50 HKD (~6 USD) per meal.

Eager to gain market control in the financial capital of Asia, foodpanda introduced PandaBox last August, where they

target customers new to restaurants with 3 different limited-time deals*. Customers have 15 minutes to place their order before the PandaBox disappears.

They purposely disallowed the option to stack discounts, so the most I could have saved is 60 HKD off a 180 HKD order, and this wouldn’t include paying the flat-rate delivery of $25. Trust me, I tried my best to get the final sticker price down.

Anyway, one slow workday, I was ordering sushi for my company and I noticed they added a ‘switch’ component on the final order screen. This touchable button introduced the possibility of changing my delivery to a pickup.

I immediately realized this might be a new attack vector and after waiting the appropriate time for PandaBox to pop up once again, I tested my hypothesis. It worked. The final price immediately dropped

Adding an animated component to their final order screen inadvertently regressed their application and removed previously imposed restrictions.

I think you know where this is going. Tying this up together,

  1. I was receiving a minimum of 20% off for takeaway,

  2. A fixed discount (27.7 | 28.5 | 33.3)% based on relative order size,

  3. and another 5% off because of my monthly subscription to pandapro.

This egregious footgun meant I could theoretically save 58.3%. Now you might say this is an intended action by foodpanda, driving up sales and urging me to splurge more, but the numbers speak for themselves.

I guess my previous experience of helping set up a restaurant certainly didn’t go to waste. Ironically, I have both a deliveroo plus and pandapro subscription — which might be why I’m flying under the radar. Oh, and also, probably because a significant portion of their userbase isn’t screwing around trying to find ways to crack the system.

Process

I’ll go into detail below on how you can replicate this yourself.

Ingredients List:

To concoct this recipe, you will need:

  1. Access to the foodpanda app - (untested on Android phones)

  2. A computer - to search for restaurants close to your location (you can also use Google Maps)

  3. A pandapro subscription - (not required but a subscription will grant you deeper discounts)

  4. An insatiable hunger for massive discounts and big meals :)

Preparation Time:

15 minutes (since once the PandaBox timer runs down you won’t be able to avail the time-sensitive discount).

Selecting a Restaurant

Open the foodpanda app. A modal should pop up displaying the various restaurants that have opted in to be included in PandaBox. You will receive around 9 choices. Out of the nine places, two or three will be close to your location. Foodpanda deliberately selects eateries that are under two kilometers to help their riders efficiently plan a route.

foodpanda hides the actual restaurant address and displays a relative ‘x metres away from your location’, which means you need to be cognizant that you aren’t too far away.

I use a combination of parsing their React website and a quick-and-dirty Google Maps search to see if the restaurants are actually close to my current location.

Using the website in conjunction with the app results in a fairly high-level overview where you can compare distance, discounts, ratings, and cuisine easily.

Remember: once you select a restaurant, it won’t be possible to select another restaurant from PandaBox — the option will disappear once you exit out. It’s best to stick to a cuisine once you’ve done your due diligence.

Switch to Pick-Up

Add any item to your cart, go to checkout, and at the top, switch to Pick-Up. If you’re looking to order now or later, take note of any time discrepancy.

Choosing Food

This is easily the hardest part. I detest choices so I usually go for set meals, which end up being cheaper priced than à la carte. Strike a balance between how much you want to spend and save (since the more you order the deeper the discounts).

Place the Order

I use Apple Pay but saved credit card details also work. Recheck the total, you should have saved close to 50% of the total order price. Go pick up your order from the restaurant and stay war of the curious looks from the staff.

Pitfalls

  1. You might need a pandapro subscription to fully take advantage of this deal.

  2. PandaBox isn’t available all the time. Based on my extensive testing, I’ve managed to generate the popup thrice a day, sometimes more.

  3. Not all restaurants have signed up for PandaBox. You’re limited in terms of choices and the kind of cuisine you are allowed to choose.

    Theoretically, you should never run out of restaurant choices.

  4. Time constraints on PandaBox. You have 15 minutes from the modal opening up to place an order. One should be prepared to order on impulse.

foodpanda operates in these countries. I’m also not sure if pandapro / PandaBox are available everywhere.

Egregiously stolen from their corporate website banner. Left to right: Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Bulgaria, Romania, and Japan.

ProTips

  1. Group order for insane rebates. I’ve once spent 20 HKD on a dinner.

  2. Since this only works for takeaways, you’re limited to restaurants close to your location. I recommend either having extensive knowledge of the surrounding eateries or googling the closest options.

  3. Credit cards with great cashback are a multiplier. Along with the 6% cashback I’m receiving from my virtual card (Mox or ZA Bank pick your poison), I’ve stopped calculating my potential savings.

What would one takeaway from this experience and ordeal?

  1. Well for starters, a corporation of this size should limit its already expansive (and frankly expensive) exposure to discount disasters.

  2. When introducing new screens to flows, test them thoroughly end-to-end to ensure cohesiveness. The simple addition of a component that allowed me to change from deliveries to pickups resulted in a 50% savings. I’ve received weird looks when picking up my food, and inquisitive managers have asked why my bills have been a hundred and fifty instead of three hundred. I usually end up onboarding them to localbee instead, double-dipping into personal marketing efforts and my own sustenance.

Next: How do you write your meal off as a business expense?

Enjoying these David v. Goliath stories? Check out localbee, where we have democratized the F&B industry. Entirely self-funded and registered as a non-profit, we are OnlyFans for Restaurants, where patrons can subscribe to their favorite restaurants and receive VIP benefits, and restaurants themselves can receive another supplementary second source of revenue. Currently based in Hong Kong, launching a pop-up restaurant in Q2 2021.

I’d like to thank Vickie Leung for the adorable illustrations supplementing this write-up.