Whether it be a Super Bowl day national chain order deluge or an unexpected crush of customers at a single store after a big local event, pizza restaurateurs are no strangers to the hustle needed to handle a sudden influx of orders. That's where technology, like that found in tools like Apple Pay and other types of mobile order, pay and customer experience venues, holds especially great potential for pizza brands.
That fact was made clear recently at the National Retail Federation's January show, when a keynote discussion led by Apple Pay Vice President of Internet Services Jennifer Bailey evoked some interesting insights from the experiences of Panera Bread President and CEO Blaine Hurst.
In a discussion that also included retailer, Wayfair, tools like Apple Pay and augmented reality technology were described for their abilities to connect and build better experiences with customers while also delivering faster, easier and more secure checkout options and new ways for customers to interact with brands.
Hurst said Panera Bread's role as Apple's initial launch partner for Apple Pay has been a game-changer.
"Over 70 percent of our customers are now using Apple Pay," Hurst said, adding it's been a "total integrated experience and it has transformed the guest experience."
Now, he said, the previously long lines at Panera order and pickup areas are fast fading, noting the $1.3 billion company is fulfilling 3.1 million orders a week via its digital platform, and 30 percent of its total sales are now digital.
In fact, 75 percent of its digital orders are now mobile device-based, he said. The mobile strategy has also grown the restaurant's loyalty base to 30 million, which the CEO said is the largest among all restaurants.
"Mobile has unlocked a customer-centric ecosystem," he said, adding that other options like mobile ordering and ordering from the table are "changing the guest experience."
Panera's "tech love" also extends to its kiosks, a venue which now yields 15 percent of sales in the stores that offer this form of ordering and payment.
"If you're using our kiosks, your frequency (to visit Panera) is up 12 percent after 12 months," he said.
He said frequency among consumers using kiosks and the rapid pickup option, shows a 45 percent frequency spike, adding that the increased sales are a critical part of Panera's tech strategy.
"That's how we have paid for this technology," he said.
These techy approaches are also producing more satisfied customers for the chain, while providing valuable data on what customers want and need.
"We know who the customer is," Hurst said. "It's a design-centered experience. It's a great customer experience."
Finally, he said digital and mobile tech are also helping employees interact and engage with customers more effectively since, he said, they "can spend more time helping the customer, and that leads to a better customer experience."
Pizza restaurateurs are facing many of these same challenges. And though, pizza has long been ahead on the delivery end of the business that many other service categories are now just getting into, the new technological options which Panera has used so effectively, hold great promise for the pizza operator in an always ultra-competitive area of food service.
A version of this story first appeared on sister site, Retail Customer Experience.
Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.www