Retail

Pizza Goes High-Tech

It’s the weekend. And that means one and only one thing. All over the country, millions of Americans are looking at the kitchen and coming to a single realization.

They just don’t want to cook anything.

Which means millions of Americans are coming around to a favored solution for hunger right about … now.

Pizza.

Satisfying, delicious and available in 30 minutes or less; in divided times, pizza unites because everyone more or less likes pizza.

In fact, 94 percent of Americans eat pizza regularly (who are those 6 percent who don’t, you might ask?). In fact, Americans collectively eat roughly 100 acres of pizza a day which is about 44 pizzas a second, assuming an eight-slice pizza. The typical American eats about 46 slices a year.

That’s not to say that pizza can’t be a controversial topic at times.

New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio allowed himself to be seen in public eating a piece of pizza with a fork and knife — and caused an outrage among his constituents.

But then again, New Yorkers take pizza unusually seriously, a fact former Daily Show host — and proud New York style pizza fan — Jon Stewart proved during 3:32 minutes of pure unadulterated hatred for Chicago-style pizza. While the whole clip is worth watching for the full explanation of why deep dish is “not pizza,” highlights include the description “an aboveground marinara swimming pool for rats.”

How appetizing.

As you can imagine, the entire city of Chicago responded — mostly on Twitter, with several suggesting various colorful things Jon Stewart could do with his thin-crust pizza that cannot even be edited into appropriateness for publication. In a more conciliatory move, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel even sent Chicago style pizza to bridge the divide — but some divisions are too deep (crusted) to be healed.

Pizza wars are not new, whether they be between a mayor and his 10 million constituents, John Stewart and the entire city of Chicago, or you and your best friend on Saturday night — the most popular pizza-eating night when it comes down to the argument over which place in town has the best slice/is offering the best deal.

But in recent weeks, the pizza wars have taken an interesting — and decidedly digital — turn, as two of the nation’s larger chains seek to stake out the digital experience high ground. Domino’s has been leading the charge , but Papa John’s is getting quick to catch up. So what are they doing — and how will it change Saturday nights going forward?

Domino’s Doubles Down On Digital

While the concepts of high-tech and pizza may not be natural fits together, Domino’s actually has a long history of innovating with ordering technology. Whether one is ordering by text emoji (a pizza slice), full menu ordering on Facebook Messenger, one-touch ordering from its mobile app and website, or placing an order with Amazon Echo — Domino’s wants to make it as easy as possible to bring customers and pizzas together regardless of the technology they happen to have on hand.

And now it is pushing the concept a bit further — with a voice-activated personal assistant all its own.

Watch out, Amazon and Google.

The service will launch in Australia and New Zealand and is the result of a collaboration with Nuance’s Nina virtual assistant engine but tailored to fit the Domino’s brand.

“Domino’s is already a recognized industry leader in digital innovation,” said Robert Schwarz, managing director for Nuance Enterprise in Australia and New Zealand. “Through our partnership, we collaborated with Domino’s to deliver a tailored, first-to-market solution that supports the brand and is on the cutting edge of innovation.”

DRU Assist uses conversational AI on Domino’s mobile app and website in Australia and New Zealand to deliver virtual online ordering and other customer service functions. Additionally, DRU Assist is able to hold digital conversations with customers about menus, ingredients, store locations and operating hours.

DRU is starting out in Australia but designed with scalability in mind so that the service can easily expand Domino’s other regions worldwide supported by global cloud technologies.

“Our partnership with Nuance Communications has not only enabled us to continue on our digital journey, but it has also allowed us to deliver an easy and seamless ordering experience for our customers,” Group CEO and Managing Director of Domino’s Pizza Enterprises Don Meij said.

And customers are responding. Domino’s last quarterly earnings reports saw the chain logging $1.48 a share on $819 million in revenue, comfortably beating the $1.44 a share on $782 million in revenue that analysts were predicting. That result was strong on its own — and stronger given the “disastrous” results other national pizza chains reported during the same time period.

Papa John’s, for example, reported $439.6 million in revenue, compared to Wall Street’s anticipation of $447 million, and saw system-wide same-store sales in North America climb only 3.8 percent, widely missing estimations for 5.9 percent growth.

And it seems those weak results have moved Papa John’s to take a page from Domino’s digital playbook.

Papa John’s Digital Pizza Play

Papa John’s does not have its own AI assistant — yet — but it did announce two big updates to its digital offerings this week.

“When it comes to technology and innovation, we are committed to improvements that positively affect the customer experience,” said Mike Nettles, chief information and digital officer at Papa John’s International. “We prioritized and invested in additional digital payment options and the development of Papa Track to provide consumers with a seamless experience, from ordering and paying for their pizza to tracking that order to delivery.”

To improve payments, Papa John’s added PayPal to its list of online payment options, which also includes Visa Checkout and PayShare powered by Venmo.

The chain has also added an online order tracking system called Papa Track, which allows users to view every step of the process from making and baking to boxing and delivery.

Both of these latest additions are part of a broader series of investments by Papa John’s in the realm of digital innovation, customer experience technology and tech staffing in the past year.

Papa John’s has also looked to using Apple TV to transform the small screen into a direct commerce channel for its customers recently.

At the end of 2016, Papa John’s reported that over 55 percent of the company’s domestic pizza sales came from orders placed on online channels — and that it expects to see that channel continue to grow.

So when you order pizza tonight, how it’s made and whether or not it’s deep dish may be now be considered alongside whether or not an AI chatbot will help you customize your order — or if you are sufficiently hungry that the ability to track your pizza in real time will decide where you buy.

Yup, even pizza can be made better with better technology.

Chow!

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