- Chipotle will add ordering capabilities through a Facebook Messenger concierge bot called Pepper beginning June 22, according to a press release. Customers who visit the company’s page on Facebook and select “Message Us” will get a prompt from Pepper, which then locates the nearest restaurant and guides them through the ordering process mimicking the in-store experience.
- The company also launched a group order feature through Chipotle.com, in which customers can share a group order link that allows multiple people to order simultaneously. The checkout is handled by the host, and orders can be tracked on the website by all order participants.
- Additionally, Chipotle has introduced the Chipotle app in Canada, allowing customers to order ahead or for delivery in that market.
Pepper marks the latest digital ordering capability from the company that has set the technology pace in restaurant the industry. The chain’s digital sales, which surpassed $1 billion in 2019, grew 81% to $372 million during Q1 2020, and digital sales represented 26.3% of sales during the quarter.
The company digitized its second make lines, added pickup shelves, expanded its order-ahead Chipotlanes, added pickup windows to a handful of locations and ramped up its rewards program in just the past few years. In March, signups for the company’s loyalty program spiked nearly fourfold, to 11.5 million enrolled members.
Such frictionless access has been a boon for Chipotle, both during and prior to the pandemic. During the Evercore ISI Virtual Consumer & Retail Summit Conference Wednesday, CEO Brian Niccol credited the chain’s strong digital presence with keeping the chain relatively insulated during the COVID-19 crisis, which has otherwise devastated the industry.
“I think this is frankly a function of ... an organization committed to creating digital access,” he said. “We were able to say, okay, we can weather the storm, keep investing in our people, keep investing in digital, and get to the other side of this thing with a much more powerful digital business. ... So, when all of a sudden you triple your transactions going through your digital system, like overnight, you're like, ‘okay, we can handle this.’”
The addition of Pepper is another example of that frictionless access, Facebook Messenger added a food ordering functionality within its app in 2017 and the Messenger platform itself is one of the leading messaging platforms in the U.S. More than 20 billion messages are exchanged between business and users monthly on Facebook Messenger and users are expected to reach 2.4 billion by 2021, according to Review42.
The company is also wise to leverage group ordering, as larger meals and bundles have grown significantly during the nationwide shelter-in-place environment in which families are locked down together. These offerings have some staying power, as many consumers remain cautious about returning to dine in occasions.
As for its other announcements, at the end of 2019 Niccol said the company could accelerate its expansion in Canada. In May, Chipotle expanded its delivery presence through Uber Eats in the market as well. With Canadians increasingly ordering food delivery services even before COVID-19, Chipotle should be ideally positioned to capture more orders from this market.