With pizza sales expected to rise over 10% in the next five years in North America, technology will be at the forefront of how and in what way pizza chains will continue to compete for a share of $45 billion in annual U.S. sales. Technology, such as mobile ordering, can save pizzerias time and money. Compared to phone and counter orders, which cost about a dollar's worth of time, digital ordering costs about 25 cents of an employee's time, according to Forbes.
Many of the top chains have taken ordering technology beyond mobile phones, from using a smart device to ordering via pizza emoji. Restaurant Dive tested many of these methods and assessed whether they seemed like marketing gimmicks or worth the time and money spent to develop.
The technology: Apple TV ordering
How it works: Ordering via Apple TV requires customers to have a Papa John's account already set up. Customers can order from Papa John's full menu by selecting "Recent Order" or "Favorites" from past orders or by customizing their own pie. Users receive an exclusive 25% discount with each order, and can watch videos of Papa John's pizza being prepared while they wait for their order.
Usability: Customers cannot create a Papa John's account via its Apple TV — they must do so online or on the chain's mobile app. Users have the option of paying with their selected digital payment method or in cash. When we tried to place our order, we were prompted to update our payment information, which isn't possible through the Apple TV app, so we did it on Papa John's mobile app.
Users can't track their order on the Apple TV. To do so, we had to go back on Papa John's website. It's possible the chain anticipates that customers would leave the application to return to their TV shows, but not including Papa Track seems a missed opportunity — and certainly a more functional feature than the pizza videos.
Still, the application itself is sleek and eye-catching, and the footage of disembodied hands lovingly sprinkling cheese and spreading sauce on Papa John's pizza crust is high quality.
Time: It took 15 minutes and three different digital touchpoints to set up an Apple TV order for a first-time user. Pizza arrived when it said it would.
Digital ordering timeline:
- 2001: First national pizza brand with digital ordering at all US. delivery restaurants
- 2007: First national pizza brand to offer system-wide mobile ordering via text
- 2017: Hires Panera vet Mike Nettles as CIO; launches Facebook instant ordering, Apple TV ordering and Papa Track pizza tracker on its website
- 2018: Reports 55% of sales are made on digital platforms
What this means: Though Papa John's has historically been a first-mover in pizza delivery technology, competitors like Domino's have developed applications similar or superior to its offerings over the years, along with more cutting-edge products like drone delivery. The chain's Apple TV ordering app is its only differentiating feature, and — excluding customers who order Papa John's multiple times per month — is a cumbersome and gimmicky ordering method for its customers. It's clear that the company invested in this service and put thought into its aesthetic design, but the subpar functionality makes it seem like a poor investment — and an example of the “feature glut” Mike Nettles tried to avoid during his time as CIO.
It's unclear if Papa John's needs to hone its existing tech or invest in new digital initiatives, or if either strategy would be enough to improve its position — the chain has lost close to 5% of its market share to Domino's and Pizza Hut since the fall of 2017. Still, 60% of Papa John's sales are made through mobile orders, headway the brand could leverage.
The technology: Pizza emoji
How it works: Ordering via emoji requires customers to have a Domino's account and an Easy Order previously set up. Once that is set up, customers send a pizza emoji by tweet, text or Slack. Customers receive confirmation through their method of ordering as well as an email and can view the pizza tracker online.
Usability: Once a customer is set up with a Domino's account, it is very easy to use and minimal effort is needed. The only downside is there is a bit of setup required for new customers, which can be more cumbersome than simply ordering online, especially if the customer does not order pizza frequently.
Unlike mobile ordering or Hotspots, it wasn't as easy to track the order. While we received an email with a link to the order tracker, it wasn't texted and added an extra element for us to track the order.
Time: It takes about five to 10 minutes to set up an Easy Order before a customer's account is ready to order by text, emoji or smart device. Pizza arrived close to when it said it would.
The technology: Hotspots
How it works: Customers can access Hotspots ordering online or mobile app. They can order like normal, but instead of inputting an address, they pick from one of over 200,000 set locations (from street corners to parks).
Usability: Hotspots was just like regular online or mobile ordering and is very easy to use for both repeat and new customers. A Domino's account was not required to order.
Hotspots was among our favorite ordering techniques. The only hiccup was finding the exact location, but that was likely due to GPS being difficult in metro areas. Customers can easily track the order process and are expected to wait at the set location shortly after the pizza is out for delivery. The delivery person also called us to make sure where we were.
Time: Quick ordering and pizza was delivered when and where expected.
Digital ordering timeline:
- 1996: Creates first website
- 2007: Launches online and mobile ordering
- 2008: Rolls out Pizza Tracker
- 2012: Refines online ordering, doing away with a 25-step process
- 2014: Releases voice ordering for iPhones and Android phones
- 2016: Adds zero-click ordering capabilities
- 2018: Unveils Hotspots ordering for 200,000 locations.
What this means: Domino's has long been focused on technology, launching a website and focusing on e-commerce in the late 1990s, long before other restaurants and retail brands stepped up their e-commerce game. Its former CEO Patrick Doyle has called Domino's a tech company that delivers pizza. Its latest innovations, including a 2017 pilot program where it tested driverless delivery in Miami, show that it is keeping its eye on the impact that emerging technologies will have on the space. Whether or not all this technology is a gimmick or really keeps customers coming back remains to be seen, but Domino's is among the top pizza chains that keeps growing year over year. Domino's is closing in on 15% of the pizza delivery market with Pizza Hut trailing behind at about 13% and Papa John's losing market share.
The technology: Mobile ordering
How it works: The platform is easy to use and customers don't need an account to order. Pizza Hut also was the only chain we tested that allowed for tipping in the app instead of in person, which is more convenient for many.
Usability:It only allowed users to see three different points of the process unlike Domino's and Papa John's which had five points in their trackers.
Time: Quick ordering process, but the app had incorrect delivery estimates and the pizza was delivered in half the expected time.
Digital ordering timeline:
- 1994: Launches online ordering
- 2009: Releases iPhone app
- 2011: Rolls out mobile ordering to Android
- 2013: Adds ordering app added to XBox 360
- 2015: Tests Uber-like delivery capabilities where customers watch delivery driver in real time
- 2017: Adds pizza tracker to online and mobile orders
What this means: The company initially was ahead of the technology pizza race, launching online ordering two years before Domino's built its website, but Domino's quickly picked up steam, and Pizza Hut has since been playing catch up. Over the last few years, the Yum Brands' pizza chain invested $90 million to improve restaurant technology, enhance digital and e-commerce capabilities and upgrade restaurant equipment at franchised restaurants. It also has been rolling out revamped restaurants in various markets to be more delivery focused. Yum Brands executives told investors during its Q3 earnings call that Pizza Hut has improved delivery times, quality of food, prices and made access much easier to customers.
The technology: Mobile app
How it works: Slice is a third-party delivery service that partners with small, independent pizzerias that are behind the technology curve in 2,800 U.S. cities. First-time users don't have to create an account on the app and can order as a guest instead, as we did. Once you choose a restaurant from a list of pizzerias in your area and select the product you want, you can enter your location and payment information and place your order.
Usability: The app was clear and easy to navigate, with no bells or whistles. Unlike mobile apps by major national chains, it didn't have a tracker for our order. When our pizza arrived, we received a call from a restaurant delivery person.
Time: It took very little time to create a profile and order through Slice's app, but the pizza arrived more than 30 minutes earlier than our scheduled delivery time.
Digital ordering timeline:
- 2010: Slice launches
- 2018: Partners with TripAdvisor, allowing users to order from close to 11,000 pizzerias in Slice's network via TripAdvisor's website
What this means: Though Slice was the most unique company we tested, its app was by far the least interesting of the bunch. But what it lacked in differentiation it made up for with ease-of-use — its app allows first-time users to quickly set up an account and place their order in two easy steps. And speed is arguably what consumers want most from their pizza ordering experience — especially when it's from a small chain they're unfamiliar with.
"Digital is not a 'nice to have' anymore. It is a must have. Pizzerias need to shift to digital if they are going to succeed long term," Slice CEO Ilir Sela told Skift Table.
Slice's partnership with TripAdvisor should help drive more users to the app as well, giving the online delivery platform's partners access to new customers. The company has $20 million in financing, and processed $100 million in deliveries in 2017. According to Forbes, the chain's expected orders for $250 in 2018 should have produced $25 million in revenue.
Despite this growth, we have concerns about the app's synergy with its partner restaurants. Our earlier-than-expected delivery may have been a fluke — and it's unclear whether this issue was caused by the app functionality or an error on the restaurant's part — but if we had been ordering this pizza for an event and not a test, this could have caused issues.