In 1994, Pizza Hut rolled out "PizzaNet" on the Internet, a technology breakthrough at the time few marveled at or completely understood. Fast forward 20 years later and that test has paved the way for what has been one of the biggest revolutions in the pizza category ever: digital ordering.
Nearly one-third of the orders in the U.S. enter through PizzaHut.com, placed either via desktop, mobile, or apps. Earlier this year, the company surpassed the $1 billion mark in digital sales.
"We recognized early on that our consumers were spending more and more of their time online, so we moved quickly to be there with them," says Scott Bergren, chief executive officer at Pizza Hut. "As they moved toward mobile versus the home computer, we were there to greet them. Digital ordering is still in its infancy, and we are intent on making the experience great for our consumers."
Pizza Hut became the first company to enter the gaming environment with an app capable of digital commerce this year. The Pizza Hut for Xbox 360 app launched in April and came complete with high-definition graphics and voice commands, and hand-motion recognition through Kinect. In addition, Pizza Hut's portfolio of mobile apps went through a major upgrade in 2013 and are available on 95 percent of smart phones, including Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone.
"Our technology team is one of the most robust and skilled in the world," Bergren says. "They've continued to push out advancements in our digital system solely to make the ordering process easier for our consumers."
More orders poured in through digital channels in 2013 than any year in Pizza Hut history. In fact, approximately 50 percent of all digital orders for Pizza Hut came through a mobile device, with the greatest growth coming via the Pizza Hut mobile site, not just the apps.
"Consumers are becoming more and more comfortable with purchasing products via their mobile phone, and we've seen that across our system," says Kurt Kane, chief marketing officer for Pizza Hut. "It's only going to continue to increase, just as the more traditional ordering by desktop computer continued to grow in the late 2000s."
The popularity of interacting with the Pizza Hut brand isn't solely found at the ordering experience either. Pizza Hut has the most Facebook fans among pizza companies, totaling 10.9 million in the U.S. and 30 million worldwide, and it has more than 640,000 Twitter followers in the U.S. The company became a trending topic on Twitter during “The Big Game” in 2013.
The company's "Hut Lovers" e-mail program has members well into the eight figures and grows by the day as more benefits are added, including exclusive deals, free cheese sticks when members sign up, and free cinnamon sticks to celebrate birthdays.
"Our Hut Lovers e-mail program continues to be one of our most effective 'push' communication tools, while our social media channels are our best way to engage daily with loyal fans," says Caroline Masullo, director of digital experience for Pizza Hut.
The focus on technology will only intensify at Pizza Hut in 2014. Among a host of technology advancements planned is a new, sleeker PizzaHut.com for desktop users.
"Simplicity and speed are the most common requests from our online ordering customer, and we've addressed that with our new site," Bergren says. "No company offers the wide variety of digital experiences than we do at Pizza Hut. Not just in the U.S., but around the world."