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Papa John’s adds Facebook ordering

In the pizza technology arms race, brands push into other social media apps

Papa John’s International Inc. is looking for customers on Facebook.

The Louisville-based pizza delivery chain, in a race for digital supremacy with rival Domino’s Pizza Inc., on Wednesday introduced Facebook ordering — enabling consumers to open through Papa John’s page on the Facebook app.

“They can jump on Facebook, search for Papa John’s page, press the big button on the page and start their order,” Brandon Rhoten, Papa John’s global chief marketing officer, said in an interview. “It’s so simple and clean.”

Customers can access Papa John’s Facebook “Instant Experience” through several entry points to order food without leaving the app. The company is offering customers 25 percent off for trying the capability, which was made launched on Wednesday.

The new ordering platform continues Papa John’s digital efforts as pizza chains increasingly compete not over the ingredients in the pizza but in the ease of their ordering.

As a result, Papa John’s and Domino’s both get 60 percent of their orders through digital channels. And the chains have generated sales growth — though Papa John’s same-store sales have been far below the double-digit numbers reported by its rival, the chain’s sales have grown for 26 straight quarters.

For pizza chains, the digital ordering eliminates a major pain point in phone ordering, when customers sometimes have to wait on hold while an employee takes another order or serves a customer inside the location.

Papa John’s started digital ordering in its U.S. restaurants in 2001 and by text in 2007. The chain also started a rewards program in 2010 and launched capabilities such as Apple TV ordering.

Social media has become a more popular source of ordering strategies — Domino’s, for instance, enables consumers to order via Twitter emoji, for instance.

In Facebook, Papa John’s is targeting the country’s most popular social media platform and one of the most popular mobile apps in use. “With 2 billion users, they are a behemoth in that area,” Rhoten said.

For the company, the app comes closer to its goal of making the ordering process seamless, either from the chain’s advertisements, or from where consumers are occupied.

In this case, so many people are perusing Facebook that it makes sense to give those users an easy way to order.

“If people are talking about food or whatever, they’re going to get hungry, they’re going to want to order food,” said Mike Nettles, Papa John’s chief information and digital officer. “They don’t have to exit the app. They can get their need fulfilled from there while they continue to socialize with friends.”

Company executives suggested the capabilities would continue to grow, too. “It’s an opportunity as far as a brand perspective to get better integration between social platforms and those give-me-my-pizza moments,” Rhoten said. “Millions of people are interacting on social media. We want to make it as easy as possible to get pizza in their hands.”

Papa John’s said it found working with Facebook to be simple because the social media company has built its own browser, so Papa John’s was able to easily add a button to its home page.

Digital ordering has become a vital part of the pizza landscape, so much so that many of these chains’ rivals — notably Yum! Brands Inc.-owned Pizza Hut, but also numerous regional chains — are working to catch up.

Both Nettles and Rhoten are new to Papa John’s — Nettles started four months ago, Rhoten one. But one of their tasks is to push the company further into the digital age with new capabilities. Nettles said the company is “absolutely” planning to add more ordering strategies in the coming months and years.

And expect the chain to market these capabilities more, too. Given the importance of these capabilities are to today’s consumers, it’s all the more important that the digital executive works more closely with the head of marketing.

“If you’re in the digital side, you’re one part tech and one part marketing,” Nettles said.

Said Rhoten: “When you’re in a business like we’re in, you don’t have a choice. If we’re not in one another’s offices two or three times a week, we’re doing it wrong. We have to be connected at the hip.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

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