Could ordering a pie be any more convenient than calling in an order on a cell phone while riding home from work?
Motorola and Domino's Pizza think it could.
Using a Web-enabled cell phone, a customer not only can view a Domino's pizza menu on his LCD readout, he can order the pie and choose the exact time and location to which it'll be delivered-by using the keypad only. The fully automated transaction takes about 30 seconds.
Pizzacast, a Downers Grove, Ill., subsidiary of Motorola, is marketing this as an "M-commerce" (mobile commerce) initiative. A still-developing field, m-commerce strives to use advanced Internet-ready cellular phones and other portable communication devices as sales conduits.
Many analysts have been lukewarm on the prospects for m-commerce, pointing to the fact that most who use these devices simply don't view them as a means to make a purchase. According to a Datamonitor consumer survey, the biggest demand for Web-ready devices is far and away email-well suited to small screens and small keypads.
Motorola, however, is convinced that it can carve a niche into the food budget of mobile device users, and it's backing that notion with millions of dollars.
"We wanted to find apps that hit consumers in their purchasing patterns," said Gary Leskun, director of business development at Pizzacast. "We selected pizza simply because pizza is a huge business ... and largely pizza is a 90 percent-plus phone business. If you draw the linkage to the phone, and combine that with the strong increase in off-premise sales for the restaurant industry, you end up with people on the move, accessing the Internet on a portable basis, and wanting to make spontaneous food decisions."
Pizzacast is designed to address consumers' love of easy access to convenience foods when they want them. Leskun said research shows that at 4 p.m. in the US, about $136 million worth of food purchase decisions are made. If a company can make that decision convenient and timely for customers, he theorized, it will have an advantage.
The nuts and bolts
A customer who wants to use the Pizzacast system first logs on to www.pizzacast.com. There, he is directed to set up a user profile that includes a name, one or more delivery addresses, payment options and Domino's menu preferences. A user can give nicknames to regular choices (i.e. "Dad's Combo", which might be a pepperoni and anchovy pizza with a 2-liter soda) to eliminate key strokes on the phone.
This information is condensed into a menu system that can be accessed via Web-phone screen or Web-enabled PDA. The customer then uses this menu on the portable device to place an order without ever dialing a phone number.
That a customer won't place his order with a human being, might concern some, but Pete Wagner, director of information services for Domino's in Ann Arbor, Mich., said that's really not the customer Pizzacast is looking to serve.
"We are not trying to 'sell' this as an alternative to voice ordering," said Wagner. "In fact, we do not expect electronic ordering to ever surpass voice ordering. Rather, this is another channel in which we must participate."
Wagner pointed out that for as many people who want to hear a human voice, there are many who prefer not to speak to order takers who are hurried, impatient or unable to communicate menu information clearly.
Rhonda Wickham, editor of Wireless Review, an online trade Webzine, is not convinced that consumers will flock to Pizzacast. She says that although the technology is impressive, it is held back by the inherent limitations of the small handsets.
"It's pretty labor intensive for what it is," she said. "As a user, what is going to make it more attractive for me than simply dialing up and saying, 'I want a pepperoni pizza'? It's a pretty simple thing to order a pizza."
Taking it to the streets
Pizzacast is not only being offered to Domino's franchises, but to any pizzeria that wants to take part. Leskun says that the average pizzeria can expect to spend in the neighborhood of $50 to $100 per month to use the service, plus any special work needed to integrate Pizzacast into the restaurant's POS system.
"If you did two to three orders a day through this channel, you'd be in a break-even situation pretty quickly," he said, because it makes life easier for the pizzeria operator by eliminating some customer service problems, such as errors made on call-in orders. It also frees up staff from the phone, and speeds production since the orders go directly into the make line.
For its part, Domino's currently is working with the formidable task of integrating the system with the enormous number of franchise locations. Las Vegas, its test city, is operationally ready according to Pizzacast, but Domino's hasn't given the go-ahead to announce to the public at large that the service is available.
"Having run a pilot involving a legacy point-of-sale system, we are now integrating with our new Pulse POS as well as introducing enhanced store locator and user profile functionality," Wagner said. "We will be in production in January."
Despite her concerns that Pizzacast isn't as easy as phone ordering, Wickham sees it as an indication of a spirit of experimentation that will help drive and shape the way handheld unit applications grow.
"The positive thing is the appeal is out there and people are playing with things and experimenting with things," she said. "They're searching for the applications that will hook people."
James Bickers is the senior editor of Retail Customer Experience, and also manages webinars for Networld Media Group. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist and innovative content strategist, with publication credits in national, international and regional publications.