Domino’s gets last laugh with dig­i­tal-na­tives fo­cus

Mocked for us­ing tech to get or­ders, now it’s an e-com­merce ti­tan.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - TECH SUNDAY - By Frank Wit­sil

Domino’s Pizza spent a good part of the past decade chas­ing what seemed like ev­ery dig­i­tal doo­dad to de­liver pizza — some­times to the scorn of ob­servers who pointed out that the busi­ness was, af­ter all, pop­ping top­ping-cov­ered dough in an oven and de­liv­er­ing it.

Why, the skep­tics asked, do you need a dig­i­tal voice-recog­ni­tion app on your phone to order a pizza, when you can just call and speak to an ac­tual per­son?

But now, as Domino’s claims the ti­tle of largest pizza chain by global rev­enue — edg­ing out long­time ri­val Pizza Hut — the Ann Ar­bor, Mich.-based com­pany’s re­lent­less pur­suit of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy ap­pears to be quite pre­scient.

And it’s work­ing on au­to­mated pizza de­liv­ery with drones and driver­less cars.

“We used to be a pizza com­pany that sells on­line and we needed to be­come an e-com­merce com­pany that sells pizza,” Den­nis Maloney, Domino’s chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer, said last re­cently in an in­ter­view. “That was one of the big a-ha mo­ments that caused a lot of con­ver­sa­tion within the com­pany.”

One ques­tion that re­tail an­a­lysts are ask­ing, though, is whether this is part of an ef­fort to elim­i­nate jobs.

Among the com­pany’s in­no­va­tions:

An app to track a pizza is while en route to you.

A Siri-like voice recog­ni­tion sys­tem, nick­named Dom.

The abil­ity to order on just about any dig­i­tal de­vice and plat­form.

Not only has Domino’s man­aged to bring in more than 60 per­cent of its busi­ness through dig­i­tal chan­nels, it con­vinced a gen­er­a­tion of pizza lovers — many of them so-called dig­i­tal na­tives — that the com­pany re­ally does get them.

“Oh, to­tally!” said Laura Khalil, 37, of Detroit, who has used the iPhone app. “They un­der­stand peo­ple’s de­sire to have things when they want it, how they want it — and get it through the chan­nels they use. It’s ge­nius.”

Khalil — who said she loves Domino’s pizza but is now try­ing to eat health­ier — added the com­pany caters to a quick fix.

“If I can just send a pizza emoji, I don’t have to think a lot,” she said. “And their pizza is re­ally good. I don’t think any of this would work if their prod­uct was dis­gust­ing. What I love most about their app is it an­swered the No. 1 ques­tion I al­ways had: Where is my pizza?”

More on­line or­der­ing

A decade ago, Domino’s started its dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion with its Pizza Tracker, a sys­tem to track piz­zas on their way to their des­ti­na­tion. Over the years, it rolled out all sorts of in­no­va­tions.

At first, there was skep­ti­cism — and even some ridicule.

“There was a lot of push­back across the board from a lot of folks,” Maloney said.

In 2013, Domino’s put a cam-

era in a kitchen and livestreamed it. It called the fea­ture “Domino’s Live.” It was not quite re­al­ity TV.

There was just video, no au­dio, and it was only in one store in Salt Lake City. Domino’s of­fi­cials said they hoped the be­hind-the-scenes show would be en­ter­tain­ing to watch. To many, it re­ally wasn’t. But, the video made head­lines and gave the com­pany a chance to tout its com­mit­ment tech­nol­ogy.

Then, the next year, Domino’s cre­ated an app that let you order — and pay — from your Ford ve­hi­cle.

At the time, Domino’s pres­i­dent and CEO said, it was “one of the coolest in a long list of re­cent tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tions for Domino’s,” and added that about 40 per­cent of its sales were gen­er­ated by on­line or­ders.

He may have been ex­ag­ger­at­ing about it be­ing cool.

But, again, it was an in­no­va­tion that made head­lines. By the end of the year, Domino’s of­fered yet another tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance: Dom, the com­pany’s Siri-like order-tak­ing voice aimed at mak­ing on­line or­der­ing a more con­ver­sa­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and putting the com­pany in the com­pany of tech in­no­va­tors like Ap­ple.

Dou­bling down

Domino’s 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.”


Domino’s Pizza has part­nered with Ford Mo­tor Co. on a plan to pro­vide its pizza by self-driv­ing car. The com­pa­nies are test­ing the idea in Mi­ami-Dade County, Fla., and the Ann Ar­bor, Mich.-based pizza gi­ant says it thinks driver­less-car de­liv­ery is “where the in­dus­try is go­ing.” Domino’s be­gan its dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion a decade ago with its Pizza Tracker sys­tem.


In the au­ton­o­mous Ford pizza ve­hi­cle, two Domino’s pies sit in a de­liv­ery cham­ber. In 2014, Domino’s launched an app that let cus­tomers order pizza from their Ford ve­hi­cles.

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