BigHoller Restaurant Online Ordering

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New options in online ordering are paying off for pizza companies’ customer relations

By Rena Archwamety

MADISON, Wis. -- When ordering pizza for delivery or take out, people used to reach for the phone. Now when they have a pepperoni craving, more people are typing and clicking, while more pizza businesses are maintaining customer relationships online.

“It takes away the time an establishment is spending on the phone taking orders. It also allows the order to be 100 percent accurate,” says G.R. Homa, managing partner of BigHoller, which provides online food ordering interfaces for restaurants.

Online ordering also helps create customer loyalty, Homa says, because mechanisms allow the customer to easily recreate past orders.

“Because it’s very convenient, people end up ordering more frequently from the same place,” Homa says. When Homa and his business partner, who came from transaction processing backgrounds, started BigHoller six years ago, their goal was simply to get the order straight to the restaurant by fax. Now with thousands of establishments in the United States, Canada and beyond using their online ordering service, BigHoller has expanded its technologies to include services such as delivery zone mapping, coupons and specials, point of sale integration and PDA compatibility to keep up with restaurant demand.

BigHoller provides online ordering to restaurants of all sizes, including Planet Pizza, Fox’s Pizza Den, Wheat State Pizza and Sicily Pizza & Pasta. Homa says BigHoller’s average restaurant is doing $2,000 in online ordering each month, and the majority have seen growth month over month.

The nation’s leading pizza chains also have seen growth in online ordering and have expanded features in this area to provide more convenience and customer interaction.

This month Domino’s Pizza announced it reached $1 billion in online sales since 2007 from Domino’s Online Ordering and mobile systems. To celebrate the achievement, Domino’s gave free Chocolate Lava Crunch Cakes to customers who ordered online on Valentine’s Day and entered the promotional code “HUG” at checkout.

Domino’s Online Ordering also took more than 160,000 orders on Super Bowl Sunday earlier this month, and just before kickoff, customers were logging on at a rate of more than 1,000 orders per minute, the company says. Currently about 20 percent of Domino’s orders are taken online, a number that has grown and continues to grow.

“It has become a great way for us to not just take orders, but a way to interact with the consumer,” says Chris Brandon, spokesperson, Domino’s.

Brandon says convenience is a big draw for online ordering, adding that customers have a feeling of assurance and interaction through being able to watch and double check their order through Domino’s Pizza Tracker, a feature that allows users to track the progress of their online order.

Other pizza chains also have seen growth in online sales. Papa John’s says more than 20 percent of its sales come online or through text, widget or smart mobile device. According to a 2008 report, its online sales since 2001 have averaged more than 50 percent growth each year.

Pizza Hut in 2008 launched an online ordering application for Facebook and in 2009 launched a free ordering application for Apple iPhone and iPod touch users (Domino’s also last year launched a new version of its mobile ordering site optimized for iPhone, Palm Pre and phones supporting the Google Android operating system).

In addition to a convenient ordering channel, Pizza Hut’s iPhone application also provides customers with some entertainment. If a customer adds too many toppings, the pizza shown on the iPhone “explodes” and toppings fly across the screen with an alert to make the pizza happier with fewer toppings. When ordering WingStreet wings from Pizza Hut via the application, users are prompted to “cook their wings” by shaking their iPhone or iPod touch until the wings are covered. A delivery car game called Pizza Hut Racer allows users to pass the time while they wait for their order to arrive.

In October, three months after the launch, Pizza Hut reached $1 million in sales from the iPhone and iPod touch application.

“We are very excited to see our customers respond so positively to our Pizza Hut App,” says Brian Niccol, chief marketing officer, Pizza Hut. “Reaching $1 million in sales with the App emphasizes the value of ordering innovation to our customers and how important it is for Pizza Hut to continue to create successful new ways to engage with them.”

Brandon says Domino’s probably will always take orders through the phone, but the company is interested in keeping up with technology and exploring new ordering channels. For example, Domino’s partnered with TiVo in the past to allow people to order pizza through their television devices.

Homa says he also sees expansion in online ordering and its options as BigHoller keeps up with demand.

“I see it getting more sophisticated as restaurants and consumers get more demanding. As technology improves, we have to be more responsive to those demands,” Homa says. “It will definitely overtake phone orders.”