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PizzaExpress parent turns to customer data analytics to target diners

Brian McKenna, News and Site Editor

PizzaExpress and other restaurant chains in the Gondola Group have gone digital with targeted promotions to casual diners over the past 18 months, using customer data management and analytics technologies.

In an ongoing programme called “Customer Insight,” the company, beginning with PizzaExpress, has mounted targeted campaigns based on customer behaviour and local restaurant needs. The cloud-based, custom-developed system has replaced paper promotional codes and the labour-intensive processes associated with them. Unique digital codes are delivered directly to customer smartphones, removing the need for printing off paper vouchers. Codes are then validated at the till and the correct discounts are applied. The programme was the overall winner at The Corporate IT Forum’s Real IT Awards in March 2011.

The company, owned by private equity firm Cinven, operates PizzaExpress, Ask, Zizzi, Byron and Kettner's. It employs 13,500 people, serving over 38 million meals a year in more than 600 restaurants, and has a customer database in excess of 2.5 million entries.

“Our vouchers have given lapsed users a reason to visit PizzaExpress and existing customers a pick-me-up during these belt-tightening times,” said John Sullivan, IT director for the group. “The key thing was that we wanted to better understand our customers – when they visited, where they visited, what they purchased.”

The breadth and depth of the database the company is now evolving means it can tailor offers to suit different customer needs while making them relevant and interesting, he said. Their data comes from customers who sign up to their database and through working with partners, such as telecommunications company Orange and The Sunday Times.

Payback came after six months, confirmed Nick Dodd, the IT applications manager who developed the programme. He also stressed that feedback from both customers and the business has been positive.

“It has reduced cost of gathering data. The paper vouchers [used previously] had to be posted and stored. The information had to be entered manually, which was time-consuming,” Dodd said.

They have eliminated the manual element to voucher reconciliation, meaning more time with the customers, who also now have less work to do since they do not have to remember to print out vouchers.

The system is a cloud-based custom application architected by Bristol-based CRM specialist Database Group, which also hosted it.

“Even building in network latency, the cloud service has achieved very fast transaction speeds. For us that had been a challenge, but we have had no outages,” Dodd said.

The company’s chairman, Chris Woodhouse, gave the programme prominence in the company’s 2010 annual report: “we have pioneered the development of promotional and partnerships campaigns linked to our growing database of customers. ... using digital and social media.”

The IT team at the Gondola Group is a centralised function and has been since Cinven’s acquisition in 2007. “We deliver consistent best-of-breed systems across the group, but the systems are set up with flexibility, so the brands use them in a way that suits them,” said Sullivan.

“We focus on delivering systems to enable this flexibility, drive value and never forget our customers or brand-specific needs. We work very well with the marketing teams, which is the area we pay most attention as we believe this is where we can add most value,” he said.

Future data management plans for Gondola include implementing QlikView, from QlikTech, whose UK headquarters are in Leamington Spa. The business intelligence implementation will help the company look at customer and product data at once.

“We’ll be building the process over the coming years, getting more and more complex and fine-tuned with our use of the data,” Dodd said.

“The key for us is to continue to evolve understanding the wants and need of our customers. It is not just a short-term solution.”


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