Netting profits

This year, in lieu of going to statisticians and technological experts for information on online ordering, we decided to go straight to the pizzeria operators who work with online ordering every day to find out the pros and cons of this growing trend and how it has helped them grow their businesses over the last few years. 

Results from our annual Pizza Industry Census have revealed a steady rise in the number of pizzerias that offer online ordering (increasing from 12.9% in 2008 to 21.4% in 2010). And, while the Big Three may have led the way with the use of this technology, independent pizzerias are making their mark with proven promotions and inventive marketing tactics. Whether advertising online ordering through special couponing, eye-catching box toppers, redesigned websites or mobile marketing promotions, pizzerias across the country—maybe even yours—are reaping the benefits of accepting orders on the Web.

A recent survey by GE Capital has found that 30.3% of Gen-X diners use a restaurant’s online ordering service, as do 43.6% of Gen-Y customers. In addition, 56% of all consumers regularly visit restaurant websites, while 54% use the Internet to learn about a restaurant they have yet to try. If your customers are already on your site checking out the menu and looking for your phone number and location, perhaps the next logical step is to let them place their order while you have their attention.

App Attack

Before we get into reader responses, let’s acknowledge the recent introduction of pizzeria mobile apps. Anyone who carries an iPhone knows about this phenomenon, and pizzerias are quickly jumping aboard the handheld highway. A search through the available applications on an iPhone reveals dozens of apps that allow you to both view the menus of pizzerias in your area and, in many cases, place your order with the app. While this technology is still fairly new when it comes to pizzerias, if you have the know-how and the audience to support an app, now’s the time to get one while they’re still considered cutting-edge.

Practice Makes Perfect

With online ordering, the longer you use it, the greater the benefits, assuming that you’re marketing the service across all of your promotional materials, and taking advantage of the customer information you can gather and further use for promotions.

Scott James Kelly, director of information technology at the Gatti’s Pizza Support Center (gattispizza.com), says that today’s consumers are digitally savvy and have come to expect a business like theirs to offer the convenience of online ordering. Gatti’s has been utilizing online ordering for more than three years. “Online ordering has raised check averages, increased brand awareness and reduced labor costs,” he says. “With online ordering, we have a platform by which we can incentivize and reward customer loyalty that we did not have in the past.” 

“We’ve been using online ordering for more than eight years now,” says Paul Gainor, co-owner of Pizza Zone (pizzazone.cc) in Houston. “We actually had online ordering before any of the other pizza shops in our area—including the Big Three. We started out with about 35 to 50 orders per month, and then people started using it more. We’ve now grown to 350 to 400 orders per month, with 15% to 20% of sales coming from the Internet.”

While Kelly admits that online ordering takes away personal interaction and requires a certain skill set from consumers, he believes that the benefits it affords—including the ability to advertise exclusive online offers and solicit customer feedback—outweigh the challenges. “In the markets where we offer online ordering, we see an average of 17% or more of sales coming from the Internet,” says Kelly. Gainor agrees that having human interaction taken away can sometimes cause hiccups in the system. “Someone may send in an online order, and we might be really busy,” she says. “The customer anticipates that the order will arrive in 30 minutes when, realistically, it might be 45 minutes to one hour.” Pizza Zone has also had to make accommodations for the fact that they’ve opted to have orders arrive through fax. “Because the orders are faxed to us rather than going directly into the POS, we sometimes make a mistake putting the order in,” says Gainor. “To avoid this, we have someone enter the order and then have another employee check the order for accuracy.” 

Despite a couple of workarounds, Gainor reports higher ticket averages, less time spent on the phone, increased order accuracy, customer convenience and the ability to gather email addresses through opt-in offers presented to customers during signup.

Marketing Matters

As with any promotion, online ordering can’t sell itself. Due diligence with marketing campaigns is the only way to ensure a positive return on your investment. “Online ordering is a standard component of any marketing campaign that we develop,” says Kelly. “Whether it be through on-hold messaging, mailers, e-blasts or TV, we always try to create awareness around the option of ordering online.” 

In addition to traditional methods of promoting online ordering, Pizza Zone mentions the option in its quarterly newsletter. “We especially like to highlight it when we’re marketing to new customers,” says Gainor. “We also like to market it as something you can do in your pajamas.” 

One of the easiest audiences to whom you can market online ordering is the college crowd. “College kids are computer-savvy, and most of them don’t want to talk on the phone,” says Melissa Chiarolanzio, a manager at Madison, New Jersey-based Romanelli’s (romanellis.com), which receives about 10% of its orders through the Internet. “We have three colleges near our store, and we’ve been marketing online ordering to the students for more than five years through new student welcome packets, our website and on-foot menu distribution.” Offering the ability to order online recently paid off for Romanelli’s again when an out-of-state mom found the pizzeria’s website online and used the system to order catering in advance for her son’s graduation party.

Customer Recall

Once customers begin using your online ordering system, tracking those customers in a database is vital for follow-up marketing. Imagine the database you’ll build to increase your ability to market new items, specials, events, etc. “We track such things as new customer accounts, check averages, order frequency and how a consumer navigated to our online order portal,” says Kelly. “We do this through the use of Web traffic analytic programs and reporting mechanisms based within our online ordering software.”

Think of online ordering as another way you can better serve your customers. Technology will continue to change the face of your customers and the way you operate your business. Your mission is to stay informed and jump onboard when the time is right for you and your bottom line.

Liz Barrett is PMQ’s editor-in-chief.