This article was previously published in Global Convenience Store Focus.
This clever Twitter comment from Pizza Express last year brought a brief moment of light-hearted humour to an otherwise bleak milestone as the iconic UK brand became the latest casual dining chain to signal a potential collapse of its popular high street business.
The company currently operates over 490 sites across fourteen territories, however following years of coupons and deals in their home market, it seems their marketing and business strategy can no longer withstand the dual pressures of discounted pricing and ever-increasing costs, so the end may be imminent. And while their approach to pricing was clearly unsustainable, the company has launched some innovative digital ideas for diners that deserve respect and recognition, so in this article, we discuss our favourite features including the “pay at table” option launched in 2018 – a feature also being offered by other major brands including Wagamama and Prezzo in the UK.
Digital Drives Loyalty
With almost 18,000 reviews for the Pizza Express app on the Apple store, it’s incredible impressive to see a 96% approval rating from users. It was originally launched in 2011, yet it wasn’t til 2018 that the “pay at table” feature was added and its popularity exploded! Under the leadership of Managing Director Zoe Bowley who had previously been the company’s Chief Operating Office, the new functionality was so popular that the app achieved its annual download target in just one week!
We regularly discuss the importance of delivering “clear, consistent and compelling” benefits for any loyalty programme, and that’s exactly the approach that Pizza Express have taken with their digital strategy.
Here are some of key features launched in February 2018 that are still exciting UK diners today:
- Pay at Table without waiting for the bill. Diners can pay their dinner bill quickly and easily on the app, with functionality to split the bill with friends and even pay for individual items.
- Hungry high street shoppers can check availability nearby and book a table in under 60 seconds.
- Fun and games: Pizza Express is a popular restaurant with families, so the app includes games such as ‘Dough Explore’ and ‘Doughball’ to play while they wait for their pizza. A clever way to engage kids and relieve parents, while building the value of the brand using fun.
- “Who doesn’t love a free bottle of Prosecco on their birthday?” Pizza Express promises this, as well as customised offers and rewards for customers who download the app.
- While Pizza Express doesn’t run a structured loyalty points programme, the company does operate an engaging policy of occasionally offering free meals for customers, dubbed the “blank bill” policy – or sometimes “this one’s on us”. In its annual reports, the company publishes details of the policy which can generate some great publicity. In this example, a popular blogging site ran the story of some lucky “deserving” diners, generating some positive PR for the brand and undoubtedly some grateful customers.
A “Surprise and Delight” Strategy
Pizza Express are using an approach known as “surprise and delight”, a strategy which is popular with loyalty marketers for various reasons.
- It’s a lower cost alternative to rewarding every customer with points or promotions. The approach is also famously used by other UK brand – Pret a Manger who use the popular term “random acts of kindness“. Total reward budgets can be fixed at any rate regardless of customer behaviour or spend. For example, Pizza Express gave away just 3,200 free meals in 2018 according to its most recent annual report, a tiny number given that the company bakes over 21 million pizzas a year.
- It empowers staff as individual waiters or baristas choose who to give the free rewards to. It is incredibly rewarding for them and creates a powerful way for them to connect with customers in a mindful and thoughtful way.
- In this excellent article, Bryan Pearson, the 2018 loyalty industry “personality of the year” discusses how Pret a Manger in particular is missing the key point of a structured loyalty programme – capturing customer data, and discusses how industry leaders such as Starbucks and Caribou invest in programmes that ‘translate into topline sales”.
Pizza Express are clearly leveraging the benefits of both mechanics – a digital strategy that saves time and captures customer behaviour, with the ‘surprise and delight” rewards as an occasional extra to drive emotional engagement with guests.
Only time will tell if Pizza Express can survive its current commercial challenges, but we hope it’s helped in some way by its passion for innovation and making customers lives easier. At the time of launch of its “pay at table” feature, research showed that 69% of UK customers found “waiting for the bill” the most frustrating part of dining out.
For us in the convenience and quick-service restaurant industry, the powerful impact of a digital strategy that drives operational efficiency is an exciting and proven way to build customer loyalty and we wish Pizza Express even more success than their fifty years to date.
Liquid Barcodes is a leading global loyalty and digital marketing technology company specialized for the convenience store and foodservice industries. Our proprietary cloud-based technology platform allow retailers to create and manage their digital marketing campaigns with a proprietary process we call the “customer connection cycle’ to engage, promote and reward customers activities in real-time across digital and media channels.
How we do it:
We have developed the most advanced loyalty and digital marketing technology platform specifically for convenience store and foodservice retailers globally.
Retailers use our self-service dashboard to create and manage loyalty driven marketing campaigns that increase purchases with their existing customers, as well as effectively target and acquire new customers through partners or paid media channels.
One core component of live loyalty is gamification. We have gamified branding, loyalty and promotions. We believe this approach is essential in order to get customers’ attention and ultimately truly engage them with repeatable actions thereby winning their loyalty.
Check out some of our exciting/proven results here:
Chief Content Officer, Liquid Barcodes and Independent Loyalty Consultant
With over twenty-five years marketing experience, I specialise in loyalty marketing consulting, managing consumer loyalty propositions, strategy and operations. In addition to working with Liquid Barcodes, my clients have included Telefonica O2, Three Mobile, Electric Ireland, Allied Irish Bank and The Entertainer, as well as Avios – the global points currency for some of the world’s top airlines. I am also a former judge for the Loyalty Magazine Awards.