Science & Technology



How Domino's used technology to woo millennials and beat rival Pizza Hut

Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Science & Technology News

"Are you serious?" the critic said after watching a Domino's commercial for the app. "Did Domino's reinvent the phone call? Voice ordering is called a phone call. All you have to do is pick up the phone, which you've got in your hand, push speed dial for Domino's -- "Hey, I want a pizza. ... "

He added: "I wonder how much money Domino's spent developing an app to voice order a pizza?"

Doubling down on digital

Domino's, however, kept investing in new ways to order pizzas online -- and to appeal to customers who were eager to use digital technology. It also went a step further by trying to innovate delivery.

In 2015, Domino's unveiled a retrofitted subcompact named DXP after a code for its delivery driving experts. It was designed to keep up to 80 pizzas warm from store to door and cost between $20,000 and $25,000 each for a franchise.

It also added a feature that let customers order via Twitter using a pizza emoji:

That led, in 2016, to the AnyWare campaign: Order from your phone by calling, texting, tweeting, using Facebook messenger; from your smartwatch; from your computer and tablet using the company website, Slack; from your car, from a button on your Samsung TV remote, and by using clicks, characters or voice commands to Dom, Alexa, Echo and Google Home.

But, the technology didn't always work.

Executives said the company was learning, improving -- and using the innovation to not just sell pizzas, but also market the company to customers -- and its investors -- hungry for that kind of technology. Maloney called the tech "fantastic public relations stories" in a Wired magazine article.

By 2017, the company had enhanced its technology. It also began offering a pizza wedding registry -- and even tried drone delivery in New Zealand, and driverless car deliveries in Ann Arbor, with future tests set in Florida's Miami-Dade County.

Domino's said it believes driverless-car delivery is "where the industry is going."

Dom, what's next?

Domino's began with one store in Ypsilanti, Mich., in 1960.

Back then, it was called DomiNick's. Brothers Tom and James Monaghan bought it for $500 and later renamed it Domino's.

There are now more than 14,400 Domino's stores around the world.

Its stock was trading this week at a near 52-week high at about $225 a share.

J. Patrick Doyle, Domino's president and CEO, has said for years he wanted Domino's to be the top pizza company in the world; and a few weeks ago, finally met his goal, edging out Pizza Hut, which had been the largest chain with $12.2 billion in global sales for 2017.

Doyle is stepping down in June. Richard Allison, president of Domino's International, is set to take over.

So what's next?

Maloney said: "If I had a crystal ball ... "

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Automated delivery seems inevitable.

"It probably won't come as fast as everybody is saying, but faster than anybody believes," Maloney said. "We are well past the conversation now if autonomous vehicles are coming. Now, it's a question of when and how."

So far, he added, the company has learned that customers were open to the technology.

And other pizza companies are looking into driverless tech, too. Pizza Hut, Domino's Plano, Texas-based rival said it is working with Toyota to launch a fleet of delivery trucks, that in a rendering of the future vehicles, looks like a toaster on wheels.

Ken Nisch, chairman of the retail design firm JGA in Southfield, Mich., points out that while Domino's technology tells a good story, it also, ultimately, may be aimed at reducing its future operating expenses by cutting labor costs.

The company -- and others like it -- are trying to build a runway to artificial intelligence and automation, he said. To do that, it has to get customers comfortable with technology and get the company ready for a digital interface instead of a human one.

"It takes the biggest variable out, which is labor," he said.

Retailers, Nisch said, are moving in a direction that uses more voice recognition and activation that makes it easier for customers to make purchases and gives the company more information about the buyer.

He added that it looks like Domino's is putting their investment in technology.

In response, Domino's said that a high-tech future may mean fewer jobs to take phone orders or deliver pizza, but it also means more jobs in tech to keep the innovations -- and orders -- coming in, and the company's website promises that more technology is "coming soon."

If only Dom could tell us what it is.

Domino's Pizza

Headquarters: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Stores: More than 14,400

Global revenue: $12.2 billion

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