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Cheese and Pepperoni Pizza

Sure, you can easily find coupons for a few bucks off, next time you call or drop by your local pizza place. But lately, the real pizza deals are online – and that’s no accident. If the convenience of ordering online doesn’t entice you, national pizza chains are hoping that coupons and freebies will.

It’s been nearly twenty years since Pizza Hut introduced its first online ordering system. Dubbed “PizzaNet”, it was announced in 1994 with the endearingly archaic language you might expect from that era: PizzaNet “enables computer users, for the first time, to electronically order pizza delivery from their local Pizza Hut restaurant via the worldwide Internet.” In case you weren’t quite sure how it worked, the Los Angeles Times offered this helpful primer: “Using the Internet’s World Wide Web to access the centralized PizzaNet server at Pizza Hut headquarters in Wichita, Kansas, customers… order their pizzas,” it explained. “This data is then transmitted via the Internet back to Wichita, then relayed via modem and conventional phone lines to the computer system at the customer’s nearest Pizza Hut.”

Ah, we’ve come a long way. Then again, maybe not – two decades later, why are so many of us still ordering pizza by picking up the phone? If you’re willing to hang up, and log on instead, pizza makers have plenty of deals for you.

For the second year, Papa John’s is running its Super Bowl “Coin Toss Experience” promotion. Anyone who registers by February 2, 2013 and correctly calls heads or tails on the pre-Super Bowl coin toss, will win a unique Papa John’s coupon code good for a free large one-topping pizza. The rules state only one vote per person, but says up to four members of a household can vote – so if you split your votes among four members of your family, you’re guaranteed at least a couple of free pizzas. Another noteworthy point in the rules: the coupon code “may only be redeemed at PapaJohns.com through Sunday, March 10.”

In other words, don’t call up and try to read your coupon code over the phone. Papa John’s doesn’t want to hear it – it wants you to order online. Why? For every employee who’s not answering a phone, that’s one more employee who can be making pizzas. Plus, pizza chains have learned, it’s easier to “up-sell” customers who order online. It’s annoying if someone tries to sell you an additional side or a drink over the phone, but it can be enticing if the offer is right in front of your eyes. Papa John’s is betting that, when you use a coupon for a free pizza, you just might pay to add another item or two to your order. And even if you don’t, getting you familiar with the online ordering system could turn you into a paying customer next time around.

And it’s not just Papa John’s. You can get a Pizza Hut coupon for a free order of Stuffed Pizza Rollers if you register on their site. Twice last year, you could take advantage of Domino’s coupons for 50% off your online order, and Domino’s also recently offered coupons for $5 off a future online purchase.

Domino’s is “spending a lot more time trying to look at the coupons that are in the stores,” company CFO Mike Lawton said last week. Local franchises create many of those coupons, and the company is concerned that franchisees end up “selling product cheaper than what they needed to.”

But online, even with all of the coupon offerings, Domino’s passed $2 billion in digital sales last year, and online orders were up 27% over the previous year. As Domino’s and other pizza makers look to boost those numbers, look for more coupons encouraging you to place your pizza order online.

So if it took twenty years to get to this point, what’s next? “Digital gives you an opportunity for fine tuning around pricing that’s beyond anything you can do over the phone and with carry out,” Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle said last week. “We are very aware of what Amazon is doing, and how they are moving prices and tweaking prices multiple times within the day for things, and there are real opportunities within that.”

Personalized pizza pricing? If sellers can set a price based on who you are, where you are and how loyal you are – that could make the very notion of one-size-fits-all pizza coupons obsolete. But don’t act too amazed – or twenty years from now, they’ll all be making fun of us too.


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