How Panera uses digital to drive demand and remove friction

The key to business success is anticipating customer desire and reducing purchasing friction, says Panera Marketing Senior VP Chris Hollander.

The best way to grow your brand is to discover what your customers want and make it extremely easy for them to get it.

Panera Bread

Think about how Panera grew from a single 400-square-foot store in Boston to 2,200 locations nationwide. Early on, we found that people wanted to be more thoughtful about what they were eating. But that’s easier said than done, especially when eating outside the home. So we began listing calories on all our menus (long before it was mandated) and offering clean foods.

In recent years, we’ve seen a shift in what people expect from us as a brand. Today’s consumers are empowered by technology to get exactly what they want, when they want it, without much effort. We need to address this shift by updating our business practices for a digital-first world. If we don’t, our hungry customers will head elsewhere—to restaurants that are meeting their ever-increasing expectations.

Digital can remove friction.

A few years back Ron Shaich, our founder, noted that a Panera cafe at noon was like a mosh pit. Hundreds of impatient and demanding customers waited around to order and collect their food. This was not the experience we wanted our customers to have. Sure, a full cafe was a clear sign they desired our products, but how soon before the friction of overcrowding and long waits sent them packing? We realized digital was the natural next step in addressing this.

One solution was the digital kiosk. Customers can explore and personalize menu items, and place orders more quickly. Loyalty club members can even save preferences and payment details to earn rewards. We also introduced Rapid Pick-Up, a service that lets customers order via website or app and pick up without waiting in line.

These changes have created smoother, more accurate ordering processes and reduced wait times, which leads to happier customers. Today, 30% of our orders are generated digitally.

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