Pizza Hut adds zest to in-store dining with beacon rollout

Pizza Hut’s 1,471 locations in mainland China are augmenting in-store dining by enabling customers to receive movie ticket prizes in the WeChat messaging application, as well as special discounts and offers, as a reward for interacting with beacon technology via their smartphones.

The pizza chain joined forces with beacon provider Sensoro to roll out the technology to Chinese consumers. As food and beverage marketers compete for the largest share of consumers’ wallets in an increasingly tight sector, beacons could be the solution to offer a brand a leg up by distributing engaging content and coupons to frequent visitors.

“WeChat and beacons are a perfect match,” said Michael Becker, managing partner at mCordis, San Francisco. “WeChat is a highly personal communication portal adopted by millions around the world, especially in China.

“Recognizing this, numerous brands have launched promotional, transactional and support offerings specifically optimized for WeChat,” he said. “These brands have learned the value of engaging people and people’s terms.

“Adding beacons to these offerings adds four to five new layers of context, person (possibly), medium, device, time and location. Leveraging this context can drive increased engagement and loyalty.”

Smart restaurants
Pizza Hut is attempting to become a smart technology restaurant chain, thanks to its Sensoro partnership. The brand recognizes the value of leveraging digital marketing to bump up sales from consumers already in bricks-and-mortar locations, as their decision to dine at Pizza Hut may make them more agreeable to spend more on additional menu items.

For example, if a customer receives a coupon for 50 percent off a fountain drink while he or she is dining out, he or she may be more likely to proceed with the beverage purchase since it is readily available.

From Sept. 3 to 23, guests at China’s Pizza Hut stores were asked to enable Bluetooth settings on their mobile devices and tap the “Shake” feature within the WeChat messaging app to receive the opportunity to win discounts or rewards such as free movie tickets.

WeChat’s mass popularity with Chinese consumers makes it the ideal communication channel to use when integrating with beacon technology.

“WeChat has around 600 million monthly active users, so why wouldn’t it be the optimal communication channel?” said Ashley McGregor-Dey, senior manager of social and content at Emarsys, San Francisco. “Any company or brand can create an account and immediately connect with fans, customers and potential customers.

“It gives you relevant prospects immediately. Marketing is moving towards a right message to the right person at the right time and this type of campaign represents that.”

This past summer, Chinese-American supermarket chain 99 Ranch Market leveraged a beacon-powered mobile game that shoppers could play via the WeChat app for a chance to win in-store prizes, proving that grocery stores are an ideal location for wide-scale beacon deployments (see story).

Targeting applications that a majority of customers already have downloaded on their devices is a smart strategy to ensure that beacon engagement remains high.

Optimizing customer service
Diners at China’s Pizza Hut stores may also view menus by interacting with beacon content, a move that could eliminate the need for paper menus as more restaurants turn to tablet devices for order-and-pay capabilities.

Olive Garden is one of the latest restaurant chains to employ tablets in its bricks-and-mortar locations, enabling customers to order and pay via the devices, suggesting that mobile has a strong role to play in streamlining the dining experience and increasing tip percentages for servers (see story).

Pizza Hut posits that using beacon technology will enhance customer service as well as streamline the serving process for employees. Stores with implemented beacons can more easily collect customer data, send relevant messages to consumers and bump up sales conversion rates.

Some marketers may also opt to leverage beacons to bring passersby into their locations via enticing offers and promotions.

“Other fast food chains, and any bricks-and-mortar business, should absolutely start using beacons to reach new people and reward their existing customers,” Ms. McGregor-Dey said. “All businesses should experiment with new technologies and find fun ways to reach their audiences.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely, editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York