Toppers Pizza continues to dominate in the fast casual pizza space, due in large part to its investments in major technology upgrades, particularly as it relates to online ordering. With plans to launch Pizmet, its proprietary point of sales system this fall, the brand anticipates that its percentage of sales from online orders will hit 80 percent in the next five years.
Improvements to online ordering started back in 2015 with the launch of a new Toppers.com that made it faster and more efficient for customers to place an order. Up to that point, 25 percent of the brand’s sales were placed online. After the launch of the new website, there was an immediate increase to 30 percent, and now, just two years later, the brand is approaching the 50 percent milestone.
“Our customers have not been shy about telling us that they want to order their pizzas online. No one wants to actually talk to anyone anymore, and they want to be able to control the experience completely,” said Scott Iversen, vice president of marketing for Toppers Pizza. “What we ultimately did was make that process even easier. We took away any friction and improved the process and increased our percentage of orders placed online by 67 percent.”
Tony Ellis joined the team in 2016 as the brand’s first ever vice president of information technology, and one of his first projects was implementing a cloud-based and mobile-first approach to technology.
“Last summer , we were getting a broader understanding of what we were working with and the stability of the environment,” said Ellis. “We put an internal emphasis on maintaining the website ourselves instead of relying on third-party partners. We immediately identified issues with iPhones. Our quick action to cover the basics led to an enormous rise in online ordering. We had a pent-up demand.”
With the basics covered, Ellis and the rest of the Toppers team is now laser-focused on building Pizmet, a proprietary point of sales system that will be piloted this fall and rolled out to the rest of the system in the next year and a half. Customers in the pilot markets will automatically be upgraded to the new website once they select one of the relevant stores. The POS system will enable Toppers to market directly to individuals, providing specific recommendations based on order history and other attributes.
“With Pizmet, we’re able to take the personalization of our marketing and our customers’ ability to customize to the next level. We’re going to have marketing capabilities that will personalize the ordering experience in a way that no one in the space is able to do right now,” said Iversen. “We think it’s conceivable that in the next five years, 75 to 80 percent of systemwide sales will come from an ecommerce channel. We can serve customers individually and give them what they want. Each customer will see a different dashboard when they go to Toppers.com based on their past purchase behavior and other things that we know about them.”
Data has always been an important tool in Toppers’ marketing strategy, and the brand will leverage this data in a way that will drastically impact the sales and further set it apart from other brands in the pizza space.
“When people go online, we are able to capture email address, IP address, mobile number, social media profiles and more. We can marry that data together to create a 360 degree view of these customers and how to better market to them,” said Iversen. “We are such a data-rich organization, which is a competitive advantage for Toppers that allows us to drive those high AUVs.”
When the system is integrated into all 85 locations nationwide, Ellis anticipates another rise in the percentage of orders coming from online, as well as a continued increase in check average, which is 25 percent higher online than over the phone.
“We will have a better online shopping experience in place, so conversion rates will rise and check averages will be higher. We’ll be able to give people relevant recommendations when they're appropriate and not annoying, with the goal of giving customers an additional reason to add something to their carts,” said Ellis.
With the focus on improving the online ordering experience comes a more refined mobile strategy. Currently, 66 percent of customers visiting the website come from a mobile device and both Iversen and Ellis agree that 75 to 80 percent of sales will come from mobile in the near future.
“The existing website was built with more of a focus on desktop with a good mobile experience, but the next iteration of Toppers.com will be built exclusively with mobile in mind, with desktop as the secondary objective,” said Ellis. “Toppers is a brand that is growing at an astronomical rate and we don’t want technology to slow that down. Our strong mobile-first approach and cloud-based technology will enable unlimited growth.”
Rolling out a new POS system is no easy feat, but Toppers’ group of dedicated franchisees share the brand’s passion and vision and understand how important online ordering is to the bottom line.
“Anytime you’re asking franchisees to reinvest into their business, it’s tricky because you have to show them what they will get in return. The good news is that our franchisees see this as our future,” said Iversen. “They’ll be able to differentiate from our closest competitors and they know the investment will pay off in the long term. In the short term, it will drive sales to a place where people want to order and that is operationally easier on the business.”
Franchisee Shane Quail, who owns three locations in South Dakota, has seen his percentage of sales from online orders increase to up to 45 percent.
“Online ordering is a critical piece to growth in the delivery business,” Quail said. “The world has gone digital and capturing sales through innovation and marketing needs to continue to be a priority.”
In addition to the higher check average, online orders require less labor compared to taking an order over the phone, which can result in a seven to 10 percent more profitable order.
Looking ahead, the brand sees beyond the foreseeable future, and plans to lean on its proprietary POS system to open up additional channels.
“Conversational commerce is going to be big in the future. With emojis, chat bots, Alexa, Google Home - the different ways to order from an Internet device are limitless. Our development with Pizmet is opening up those channels so we can integrate them faster. Being our size enables us to be more nimble,” said Iversen.
But how long will Toppers stay that size? In 2017, the brand will see 17 new restaurants open, with 20 more set to open in 2018. Toppers recently caught the attention of several multi-unit franchisees that have signed on to grow the brand in new key states, and with innovations in product and technology, Toppers is set to hit its goal of 200 units by 2020 and will continue to stay ahead of the “big guys” in the pizza space.