Fast-casual chain steps up digital ordering


As Panera Bread’s electronic orders continue to rise, so does its commitment to digital customer engagement.

The fast-casual chain continues to add more digital touchpoints, making it easier for shoppers to engage with its brand. Whether delivering new services via the Web, mobile or in-store kiosks, “we want to drive convenience, speed, and contribute to an exceptional customer journey,” Mark Berinato, VP, digital, Panera Bread said during a session at eTail East on Monday.

Panera’s Rapid Pickup program was the chain’s first foray into digital ordering. The service, which launched in 2014, enables shoppers chainwide to place — and pay for — meal orders online or via their mobile device, and then pick them up at a dedicated display inside their preferred cafe.

Customers can also place orders via in-store kiosks. While some users are attracted to the proposition of a speedier ordering process, 40% of customers prefer the solution “because they can control the pace of their order,” Berinato explained. “Our menus can be complex, and some customers may feel rushed when placing an order with an associate. This technology lets them control their order navigation.”

Panera’s newest initiative puts yet another spin on digital ordering. Called “Order From My Table,” in-store customers can place an order through their mobile app, and an associate will bring their meal directly to their table. A concept that began as a small pilot test is now available in 40% of Panera’s cafes.

It is also a way to cut down on potential bottlenecks at the pick-up counter — an issue that has been a thorn in the side of competitors like Starbucks. For example, when the coffee giant’s digital orders doubled to 1,200 transactions during Starbucks’ fiscal first quarter, which ended Jan. 1, the chain experienced bottlenecks and some canceled orders.

Eager to avoid similar scenarios, Panera does due diligence when evaluating which solutions to pursue. Overall, potential projects must “solve a customer need, be user-friendly, and maximize the customer’s visit,” he added. “Our goal is to provide options.”

Expanding the chain’s delivery services was one of these options. Panera began rolling out this service in select locations in 2016, and is currently available in 50% of its cafes. It will be available chained by this time next year, Berinato reported.

“For us, it’s not about rolling out new technology services, it is about owning the customer experience,” he said. “We choose programs that solve a [customer] problem, and in the end, can maximize their experience with our brand.”
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