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The digital innovations that took Domino’s from pizza place to tech titan

Published January 19, 2021

Domino’s, the international pizza chain, went from near bankruptcy to tech innovator with one question: What if a customer could browse for, order and pay for a pizza—all while waiting at a stoplight?

Domino’s was, famously, a brick-and-mortar pizza place with a promise to deliver pizzas in “30 minutes or less.” That tactic worked until competitors started beating them at their own game. Domino’s needed an edge.

In 2011, Domino’s then-CEO Patrick Doyle tasked his IT team with a seemingly impossible ask: Make it as easy and efficient as possible for any customer with a smartphone to order a pizza in the 17 seconds it takes for a light to turn green. The IT team answered the call with a “build and order your own pizza” app. Today, “Domino's customers are now more likely to order from a digital platform, such as the chain's iPad app, than they are to order via phone,” according to Nation's Restaurant News (NRN). 

And, thanks to their dedication to digital-first innovations like this, Domino’s grew from pizza place to tech titan.

Driverless delivery and e-bikes optimize the delivery process


Before e-bikes and driverless delivery, third-party services like DoorDash and UberEats were coming for Domino’s delivery business. According to TechCrunch, “Domino’s could never offer enough menu options to compete with DoorDash or UberEats, but it can compete on service and delivery times.” Especially now that the majority of restaurants offer delivery, Domino’s is willing to get creative to stay ahead of the competition.

That creativity is especially important now that consumer interest in takeout and delivery has seen a 148 percent increase compared to level before the pandemic, according to Yelp data.

So, Dominos invested in two digital-first innovations to make the delivery process smoother (and to stay ahead of the competition): delivery via autonomous vehicle and delivery via electric bike. Those innovations resulted in 2019 digital sales of “more than half of all global retail sales.” 

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Domino’s partnered with Ford to launch autonomous (driverless) delivery in 2019. The car, called Nuro R2, travels at 25 miles per hour to designated delivery zones in Houston, Texas. Customers who opt for autonomous delivery will be issued a code to enter into a screen on the outside of the vehicle to receive their order.

Nuro is Domino’s second shot at an autonomous delivery system—in 2017, it tested driverless deliveries in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Domino’s is headquartered, via a modified Ford Fusion. That experiment allowed for a safety driver to ride along, but the Nuro has no room for humans; one thing both companies will continue to iterate on in order for Nuro deliveries to be economic, scalable and successful.

Over time, driverless vehicles will be less expensive to run than deliveries made via a passenger vehicle. Kroger, the grocery chain, is also testing and seeing success with Nuro-powered grocery delivery in Arizona and Texas. 

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Domino’s also partnered with Rad Power Bikes in 2019 to launch delivery by e-bike. One bike can hold 12 large pizzas, and it tops out at 20 assisted miles per hour. In some markets, like Seattle, bike delivery mitigates parking issues—and electric assistance helps couriers speed-up the process. 

In a press release, Greg Keller, Seattle Domino's franchisee, said, "While delivery on a traditional bike solved many of our traffic and parking issues, the hills in Seattle were tough on even our best cyclists. E-bikes were a game-changer for us, and we've been delivering with them for three years now. We have been able to save money, provide better service, increase hiring and maintain a happy workforce."

Customers are able to track their Nuro or e-bike delivery through the Domino’s app, just like they would with any other food-delivery app. 

GPS tracking maximizes labor efficiencies


Domino’s has always been a leader in innovation, from inventing the 3D car-top sign, now used by taxis, to insulated bags that keep food hot during delivery. Domino’s was also influential in incorporating live order tracking—now standard technology in the restaurant and delivery industries—further positioning the company to successfully compete with third-party delivery companies. Not to mention GPS help to optimize in-store logistics planning and provide digital transparency to its customers.

The chain introduced online ordering in 2007. In 2008, it quickly turned around and launched its Domino's Tracker, allowing for “better delivery procedures,” as well as more efficient kitchen processes.

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On an earnings call, Domino’s CEO Ritch Allison said, “We're breaking down every aspect of the operation to try to find opportunities for efficiency, because we know that labor costs are only going up over time.” GPS tracking has back-of-house efficiencies, like the ability for store managers to visualize where drivers are for more efficient logistics planning in-store. “Drivers themselves benefit from optional navigation, one-touch customer callback capabilities, and customers who are better prepared to meet them when they arrive,” according to QSR magazine.  Further, “Kitchen staff also know when best to prepare orders if they know where a driver is and can notify drivers on how to set their route for the next round of orders,” according to a closer look at the technology by Restaurant Dive.

AI ordering removes friction from the ordering experience


From the 17-second challenge to today, Domino’s leadership is dedicated to making consistent improvements to its digital ordering processes. Domino’s cutting-edge artificial-intelligence ordering bot, Dom, allows customers to place orders with little effort. When it was launched in 2014, Domino’s called it “a true first within both traditional and e-commerce retail.” 

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Dom is one of several digital innovations to increase sales for the worldwide chain. In the U.S. alone, “Domino's generates over 65% of sales via digital channels and has developed several innovative ordering platforms,” according to a Q2 2020 earnings call.

In parallel, Domino’s AnyWare brings ordering opportunities to the digital tools that consumers use daily, including work communication tool Slack, Amazon Alexa, Facebook Messenger, and more. Technologies like Dom and AnyWare help Domino’s diversify the company’s offerings and open up more revenue streams. By 2018, “Domino’s tallied more than 60 percent of its U.S. sales via digital orders, achieved its 30th straight quarter of same-store sales growth, and saw its stock rise 22 percent in a tumultuous market,” according to Fast Company

Today’s $899 billion-dollar restaurant industry is driven by digital innovation


Domino’s 17-second order task was the start of Domino’s rise to tech stardom. It’s now the world’s largest pizza company, but as a tech company, Domino’s is so dedicated to tech excellence that they built what they call the Innovation Garage, where they've tested and signed off on many of the innovations already mentioned.

The Innovation Garage is just one sign that Domino’s refuses to rest on its continually successful laurels. Domino’s CTO Kelly Garcia says the company’s commitment to digital innovation is fueled by a desire to “fight complacency.” The company does that by focusing on digital innovation in an increasingly saturated restaurant space.

The National Restaurant Association’s 2020 report revealed that an increased focus on digital innovation and the implementation of technological advancements will help players in the competitive space stay ahead of an $899 billion-dollar—and growing—restaurant industry.

And in a press release, Hudson Riehle, a senior VP at the National Restaurant Association, said in early 2020 that he expected to see growth in “off-premises options, technology that streamlines operations, and more restaurants that are talking about their increased sustainable and eco-friendly practices.” He couldn’t have been more correct. 

So, moving forward, innovations and technology to optimize both front- and back-end operations, sustainable practices, and off-premises options like contactless pickup and delivery, are front and center for restaurant success. 

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