Donatos Pizza has relaunched its website with a more responsive design at a time when a customer’s digital experience has become increasingly important in the pizza segment.

The Columbus, Ohio-based chain rolled out a new website with a responsive design that optimizes itself for however customers access it, whether through a desktop computer, smartphone browser or tablet. New features include an animated, image-heavy menu interface; instant geolocation that immediately pulls up the nearest Donatos location; and a semantic search function to let customers explore more menu combinations, said Staci Hausch, the brand’s director of digital marketing.

“We were going for ‘ridiculously easy ordering,’ and wanted the site to intuitively know what guests are looking for, so we modeled it off a retail-based experience,” Hausch said.

Customers can place orders for pickup or delivery without logging in or creating a profile, which had turned into an inconvenient task on Donatos old online-ordering platform, she said. The brand can still track previous orders and favorite orders by linking purchase behavior to email addresses customers supply at checkout.

Before relaunching the new site systemwide on May 27, Donatos began a beta test on May 6, and gave customers the option of trying out the new site or continuing to the old one. About half the brand’s Web traffic opted to test the new version, Hausch added.

Donatos will track how the new features and improved user experience will affect customers’ frequency and the average check. Initial results have been promising, she said.

The chain has been one of several regional players investing in digital ordering during the past several years.



Officials from Domino’s Pizza and Papa John’s Pizza have touted their long-running online ordering platforms and smartphone apps as advantages that have helped them take market share from independent pizzerias and smaller chains like Donatos. Recent declines in sales and profits for NPC International, the country’s largest Pizza Hut franchisee, with 1,263 locations, highlighted the importance of digital ordering among chains large and small. Chief executive Jim Schwartz noted that Pizza Hut had not kept pace in that competition, but had the opportunity to catch up and build sales and customer loyalty.

The big three chains recently have disclosed they each derive more than 40 percent of sales from digital ordering channels, with Papa John’s predicting it would be the first brand to reach 50 percent of sales ordered online or via mobile apps.

Hausch said Donatos already had increased its sales mix from digital ordering, to about 22 percent, prior to the website relaunch.

“Already, our customers are using the mobile site heavily, so our goals are upward of 30 percent to 40 percent,” she said.

Donatos officials characterized the brand’s investment in a revamped website as a play for added value to its customers, not necessarily for taking market share back from heavier advertisers or stealing visits from independents in its markets.

“We’re really all about what’s the best and easiest way to get our products to our customers,” spokesman Tom Santor said. “It’s much more driven by the customer, as opposed to having a competitive bullet we want to fire at everybody else. That being said, we’re confident with how it’s playing out, and we think it will be a competitive advantage for us.”

While pizza chains often realize more favorable labor costs when online ordering reduces the hours needed to take phone orders and increases throughput, that is not a primary goal with the website relaunch either, said Scott Stalnaker, manager of information services and projects.

“We’ve seen a nice impact already to our service platform, moving associates from the phones to making or delivering pizzas or taking care of our guests,” he said. “We expect that to continue. This isn’t to cut labor, but to reallocate it to more service-oriented positions.”

According to Nation’s Restaurant News’ latest Top 200 report, Donatos’ U.S. systemwide sales held steady at an estimated $166 million in fiscal 2012.

Donatos was founded in 1963 by Jim Grote and is still a family-owned company. The brand operates or franchises 154 locations in six states.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN