How Dominos Quietly Became The Amazon Of Pizza

If you had the chance to go back to 2010 and buy one stock, what would it be? Amazon? Google? Apple? Sure, you would have made money with those picks, but not Domino’s money. The brand that once taught us to “Avoid the Noid” saw shares shoot up more than any of those beloved tech giants over the same seven year span. Pizza beat the iPhone.

Interestingly, this huge spike in Domino’s stock was very much about tech. It’s an old-fashioned American comeback story that’s also deeply rooted in the Silicon Valley principles of disruption and convenience-through-computing.

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At the beginning of the decade, with customers feeling dissatisfied and food culture atomizing, Domino’s tore everything down to the studs. The company’s CEO (then President) J. Patrick Doyle appeared in a series of ads (that played more like mini-docs) full of harsh criticism for the brand he loved. The company promised to make a hard pivot: Fresher ingredients, better dough, the death of “cardboard crust.”

But while the culinary side of the business fought to correct course, there was a second shift going on: Domino’s was building itself like an e-commerce company that just happened to sell pizza, rather than a pizza company that sold their product online.

Since those 2009 commercials, Domino’s has developed an almost absurd number of ways to order: You can press a button that delivers pizza on demand, you can text an emoji and get a pie, you can even pick your toppings while talking to a robot. Most recently, Domino’s has been showing off its prowess with IFTTT. IFTTT — short for If This Then That — is fairly simple: it lets you tie simple commands to actions taken online. For Domino’s, that means linking your smart home to its order tracker, ensuring that the porch lights are on, say, or that the TV is ready for the game when the pizza arrives.

“In 2010 the brand took a step back and said ‘We need to reinvent who we are.’” explains Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief digital officer. ” A big part of that equation was creating really great digital ordering experiences.”

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Domino’s isn’t selling a single, fixed product or even an array of products, their business is about one product that changes depending on the tastes of each customer.

“Pizza is effectively infinitely customizable,” Maloney says. “Which means all of our platforms, and all of our experiences, need to be able to deal with that level of customization.”

In other words, no matter how weird your pizza, Domino’s decided you should be able to have it it at the press of a button. Sometimes, the ideas were simple. The emoji, were up and running in a matter of weeks. Others, however, made even tech giants take pause. When Domino’s introduced its “zero-click” app, where opening the app leads to a countdown which — if left uninterrupted — automatically orders a pizza, they ran into skepticism.

“Apple and Google weren’t sure we could do this,” Maloney says with a laugh. “They asked, ‘Aren’t you worried about this?””

Domino’s trusted their tech (and, it should be said, their consumers — there haven’t been huge stories of impulse pizza purchases that were rejected). They built a tightly integrated system that every franchise uses. All orders go to the point of sale system, which is immediately connected to the pizza tracker. In other words, as far as the system is concerned, it doesn’t matter if you order with a phone call, from a website, from an emoji, or from space.

“If you want to order a pizza with two toppings and a thin crust, that’s what you want, you shouldn’t have to change your order because of the platform,” Maloney continues. “It should be seamless.”

When talking about tech, the food industry, as a rule, thinks more in terms of sous vides and digital thermometers thank ordering systems. Domino’s flipped that mindset. While the apps and the buttons are neat for customers, for the franchisees, it means they don’t have to juggle five different computer systems in order to make your pizza: They can just focus on the food.

It also means, long term, that Domino’s will be more efficient across the board, better understanding what sells and what doesn’t and buying its food accordingly. The data that comes from moving so much of their ordering online can increase profit and sustainability.

The latter point is no small matter: The food industry has been struggling with waste for a long time — it’s a potent environmental and social issue. 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year, and 40% of it comes from restaurants. In fact, if our food system was more efficient, world hunger would effectively disappear.

Could the information that Mahoney and the Dominos team get through online ordering help them reduce waste dramatically? Sure. It’s easy to see how — when looking at a large data set — the company might learn to buy more basil in the summer and more mushrooms in the fall.

Domino’s, of course, is not so ambitious as to claim they can end a social blight, they’re just selling pizza. But they’re also, right now, one of the few companies in the food industry exploring these systems and laying out how they work. They’re bringing tech into the real world, creating the ‘internet of pizza.’ And guess what? It’s working.