By Charlie Pogacar

For many independent pizzerias, the closest competitor is a major pizza chain. That’s why it’s important to know what those chains are up to—it can help identify areas where an edge might be gained.

A recent mystery-shopping mini-study conducted by Intouch Insight examined how five of the largest pizza chains are performing when it comes to online ordering for in-store pickup. The study consisted of 75 total transactions spread across Domino’s, Little Caesars, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns and Marco’s Pizza—15 “shops” were conducted at each respective brand. All shops took place in Texas, Georgia or California, and the transactions were evaluated in areas such as ordering, customer service, cleanliness and comfort and product quality.

“Whenever we do a study like this, it’s really just a ‘check-in’ on the industry,” said Sarah Beckett, director of marketing with Intouch Insight. “We wanted to see how these larger brands are performing in order to get some benchmarks. This was our first time doing a study like this in the world of pizza, but it’s something we’ll check in on from time to time going forward.”

Related: Tap into your hidden superpowers to compete with the major pizza chains

Here were some of the key stats and takeaways from the mystery-shopping mini-study. All figures reflect the 75 total mystery shops and are not broken down by brand.

Q: Did you have any glitches or issues while placing your order on the website or app?
A: Yes: 12%; No: 88%

Q: Did you receive your order within the estimated preparation time?
A: Yes: 89%; No: 11%

It could be considered surprising that 12% of mystery shoppers had issues with the brands’ websites or apps—larger brands have long offered online ordering and have had plenty of time to work out the kinks. Similarly, 11% of mystery shoppers had to wait longer than advertised for their order.

“To me, 1 out of 10 people struggling with the app or not getting their pizza on time, that’s not great,” said Laura Livers, head of strategic growth at Intouch Insight. “It’s not horrible either, but it’s something you’d think is maybe a little more controllable.”


Q: Was the pizza order accurate?
Yes: 97%; No: 3%

Q: Was the pizza served hot and fresh?
Yes: 100%

Q: Was the pizza made with quality ingredients (i.e., toppings appeared fresh, evenly distributed)?
Yes: 97%; No: 3%

Q: Was the pizza cooked correctly and perfectly done (was crust a golden-brown)?
Burned: 7%
Overcooked: 44%
Thoroughly cooked: 49%

Chef making pizzas in a commercial kitchen. Cook making pizza at a restaurant and grabbing it to put it in the oven.

In terms of accuracy, the large chains did well in certain areas: Orders were generally accurate, they were always hot, and toppings were generally fresh and evenly distributed. However, the final stat is worth highlighting: It was a coin flip in terms of whether or not the pizzas were cooked to perfection. Just 49% of mystery shoppers said their pizza was “thoroughly cooked,” while 44% said their pie was overcooked and 7% said it was burned.

Related: These are Americans’ favorite pizza chains, according to Newsweek

“To me, this was the big ‘a-ha’ takeaway from this study,” Livers said. “I’ve gone back and looked at the data myself several times because it stands out that much. The quality of the pizza…only 49 percent were cooked correctly. Pizza is the product, right? It’s not like quick service where you’re dealing with burgers, chicken, dessert—a myriad of different things. Pizza is one product. How can you not be getting that right 51 percent of the time? So that’s another real opportunity for smaller operators.”


Q: Overall, how would you rate the service you received on this visit?
Friendly: 75%; Neutral: 21%; Not Friendly: 4%

Q: Did anything from your experience indicate that the business was short-staffed at any time on the day of your visit?
Yes: 12%; No: 88%

Q: Were you upsold any additional items or toppings by employees at the location?
Yes: 4%; No: 96%

Q: Were you offered any condiments or seasonings for your pizza?
Yes: 17%; No: 83%

Q: Did the cashier smile at you during the interaction?
Yes: 15%; No: 85%

Livers and Intouch Insight have been conducting large-scale shopper studies like the QSR Drive-Thru Study for decades now. Something that has always stood out to Livers is the connection between staff friendliness and the overall success of a transaction. The two are almost always linked: If employees were friendly to a shopper, the more likely it is that the shopper will say they had a good experience.

That’s why a few metrics from the above “service” categories stand out. Consider that just 15% of shoppers saw an employee from one of the large pizza brands smile at them during their visit—this is yet another area where smaller brands can outdo the larger brands. Building a culture of positive customer service can be a great way to make any transaction resonate with a guest—even one who is just coming in to pick up an online order.

“We see this in every study,” Beckett said. “Friendly service means a better experience. I really think that comes back to employee training, and the smaller brands have that opportunity to do better than other brands because they can maintain more control over these types of transactions and create that personal connection with employees.”

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