Online Ordering: Return to the Planet of the Apps!

By now, everyone has heard the cliché: There’s an app for that. But apps can be especially important for pizzerias—indeed, a crucial tool in overall marketing strategy. Fifty-five percent of internet usage now happens on mobile devices, according to Rafi Cohen, co-founder of Brooklyn, New York-based app developer Orders2me. “Mobile devices, just like food ordering, are a matter of convenience, so we put a lot of emphasis on this aspect of online ordering,” Cohen says. “In the past five years, we’ve seen app orders increase from 5% to 10% each year for our average restaurant client.” 

But is an app right for your business? Where to start? And what features are musts? Here, app experts break down the basics to demystify the process.

“In the past five years, we’ve seen app orders increase from 5% to 10% each year for our average restaurant client.”
— Rafi Cohen, Orders2me

App-Appropriate?

The decision to create a restaurant app often comes down to budget, says Chris Ciligot, marketing assistant at Clearbridge Mobile, an app developer in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada. “It’s a costly project, and not every business will have the budget required to properly develop an app that will be useful for its customers,” he explains. “Factors like scope, complexity, feature requirements, and the firm you choose to partner with all determine the cost.” However, he adds, more cost-effective solutions do exist—such as developing a responsive website that will work on mobile, which, for smaller pizzerias, may be a better solution. 

But Cohen counters that most pizzerias, regardless of size, can cash in on the power of mobile apps, which offer multiple benefits, such as allowing customers to order more quickly and easily. They also allow for direct marketing via push notifications (for example, alerts about specials), which customers are more likely to respond to than emails, he says. Finally, his data shows that customers who have downloaded a pizzeria’s app are more likely to reorder than those who don’t, leading to more repeat business—whether the pizzeria has a single location or dozens. And no wonder: Those customers are faced with your app logo every time they look at their screens.

“Ordering apps are an extra feature that a restaurant offers to its customers, but they also help with convenience for the restaurant itself,” Cohen adds. “Apart from making more sales, restaurants can use apps to instantly share information and updates with their customers, increase order accuracy, raise ticket prices by suggesting add-ons, and save staff time.”

One more thing to keep in mind: If big chains in your area have been sapping away more and more of your business, their ordering apps likely play a role. Even smaller chains know that, when placing and paying for a delivery or carryout order is as easy as three or four clicks on a phone screen, it’s a no-brainer for customers.

Development Notes

But Cohen warns that, because smaller businesses are likely able to afford fewer mistakes, it’s crucial to ensure they have a quality app from the get-go. Hence, seeking professional assistance to build the app can be helpful. Ciligot recommends that if a pizzeria is seriously considering app development, a planning meeting is the best place to start. “This will help set the foundation for your app by identifying your audience and their pain points, as well as establishing goals, and ultimately leave you with a better understanding of how your target audience will interact with your mobile app,” Ciligot details. “This information is vital to thoroughly define the functionality of your product, as well as getting a better understanding of the project scope, which is necessary to write a detailed request for proposal (RFP). This is how businesses can decide which vendor is most suitable to partner with.”

And because the app development price tag can vary significantly, depending on scope and complexity, having a well-established idea of what features you want to include, and what you are ultimately trying to achieve, will give everyone involved a better understanding of your budget—leading to better, more accurate vendor bids, Ciligot adds.

Cohen agrees that defining goals—what you want to accomplish with the app—is the first step. But, when choosing a development company, he recommends looking for a team that does the heavy lifting for you. “That’s building menus, submitting apps to the stores, ensuring payment is embedded so the restaurant gets paid for all orders, etc.,” he explains. “Look for a solution that’s user-friendly, but also backed by a team that offers good support. For example, Apple and Android update their software periodically, so you want the company to constantly update and monitor the app, making sure it’s working across all platforms.” 

“Not every business will have the budget to properly develop an app that will be useful for its customers. Factors like scope, complexity, feature requirements, and the firm you choose to partner with all determine the cost.”
— Chris Ciligot, Clearbridge Mobile

Key Features

When it comes to selecting features for an app, Ciligot believes, decisions should always be made with the user’s needs and motivations in mind—after all, users must find the app useful or they won’t use it. He notes some key features that should always be included:

The ability to support mobile payments. Your goal is to make the ordering process as convenient and simple as possible for the user, so allow for mobile payments—i.e., users can link their credit cards, internet banking, or mobile wallets (such as Google Pay and Apple Pay) and make payments directly from the app without needing their credit card or banking information on hand. That allows for faster transaction times and for users to choose the payment option they’re most comfortable with. (However, you should still offer the option to pay with cash upon delivery, as some users may not be comfortable with mobile payments.)

Real-time tracking. This feature shows users everything related to the status of their order: when the pizza is placed in the oven, when it’s been picked up for delivery, the location of the driver, and the estimated time it will take to reach the user’s location. This helps the user coordinate meal times with their other activities.

The option to leave feedback. Knowing what your users want is crucial, so ask for their feedback! This allows you to solve any problems before they affect future downloads while building customer relationships. Showing responsiveness and addressing any questions or concerns boosts your engagement and retention rates, encourages positive reviews, and builds long-term brand loyalty.

Cohen adds that the user should be able to view past orders, reorder them with one click, and be able to save their address and payment information for quick, easy checkout. And, once the app is built, Cohen advises using the app yourself (and enlisting staff for feedback), as if you’re a customer trying to place an order. “See it from their vantage point,” he says. “Does the customer have access to all of the options that the pizzeria offers? Is it easy to create a build-your-own pizza?”

Finally, Cohen advises, set up a marketing plan to drive app downloads—and profits. “The average order online (including via apps) is 20% to 30% higher than a phone or in-store order, and online orderers are more likely to take advantage of extra toppings or add-ons,” he notes. “Push customers to your app so you’re in control of your marketing—and so you get access to all of that valuable customer data!”  

Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.