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Panera Bread, Wayfair reap benefits from technologies that enhance the customer experience

Kiosk, mobile and digital platform efforts are providing Panera with increased sales, as well as leading to a more satisfied consumer. It's also providing insightful and invaluable data on what customers want and need.

Panera Bread, Wayfair reap benefits from technologies that enhance the customer experienceBlaine Hurst of Panera Bread shares his views about digital technology during the NRF show in New York City. Photo courtesy of NRF.

| by Judy Mottl — Editor, &

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story ran in Retail Customer Experience, a Kiosk Marketplace sister publication.

Leading retailers have recognized the dual importance of technologies that enhance customer ordering and also deliver critical customer data. These points were driven home by the leaders of two brands that have embraced new technology tools to enhance the customer experience — Panera Bread and Wayfair — during a keynote presentation at the recent NRF "Big Show" held at the Javits Conference Center in New York City.

Blaine Hurst, CEO and president of Panera Bread, and Ed Macri, chief product and marketing officer at Wayfair, were joined by moderator Jennifer Bailey, vice president, internet services, Apple Pay.

The trio discussed how retailers, using tools such as kiosks, Apple Pay and augmented reality, are crafting more connected and deeper curated experiences for customers, along with delivering faster, easier and more secure checkout options. And, just as importantly, the tools are advancing the ways consumers can interact with retailers and merchandise.

"It's been a wild ride," Hurst said, mentioning he came to Panera Bread initially as a wanna-be franchisee. While franchising didn’t work out, what did was an invite to help advance the Panera Bread 2.0 strategy, Hurst noted, given he's now CEO.

The once long lines at Panera Bread order and pickup areas are fast fading, Hurst said, noting the $1.3 billion company is fulfilling 3.1 million orders a week via its digital platform, and 30 percent of its total sales are now digital.

Panera Bread continues to find big success with self-order kiosks, which represent 15 percent of sales in stores where available.

"If you're using our kiosks, your frequency (to visit Panera Bread) is up 12 percent after 12 months," said Hurst, adding the frequency among consumers using kiosks, and the rapid pickup option, is revealing a 45 percent frequency spike. The increased sales are a critical part of Panera Bread's tech strategy, he noted.

"That's how we have paid for this technology," he said.

The kiosk, mobile and digital platform efforts are providing Panera Bread with more than just increased sales, however, as it's leading to a more satisfied consumer. It's also providing insightful and invaluable data on what customers want and need.

"Mobile technology is innovating the customer experience," said Hurst, who described himself as an old school programmer. Panera Bread served as Apple's initial launch partner for Apple Pay.

"Over 70 percent of our customers are now using Apple Pay," Hurst said, adding it's been a "total integrated experience and it has transformed the guest experience.”

In fact, 75 percent of its digital orders are now mobile device based, he said. The mobile strategy has also grown the restaurant's loyalty base to 30 million, which the CEO said is the largest among all restaurants.

"Mobile has unlocked a customer-centric ecosystem," he noted, adding options such as mobile ordering and ordering from the table are "changing the guest experience."

"We know who the customer is," Hurst said. "It's a design-centered experience; it's a great customer experience."

The CEO also noted how digital and mobile tech are helping Panera Bread associates better engage with customers.

"Associates can spend more time helping the customer, and that leads to a better customer experience," he said.

Wayfair, a $4 billion ecommerce furniture and home accessories seller that sells 8 million products to 10 million customers, is also embracing today's consumer love of mobile commerce as a retail strategy.

"Our culture is deeply rooted in data, in technology," said Macri, "[Mobile] presents a new way to shop, with consumers searching for products on their phone, snapping photos of products and searching for them. It's making shopping for the home magical."

Macri spoke to how Wayfair has "solved one of the biggest pain points" when it comes to shopping for furniture — thanks to its new View in Room 3D mobile app and features that let consumers view an item in their home before purchase. He also noted how Wayfair is delivering a seamless payment process with Apple Pay.

Such technologies, he said, are proving to be "game changers" that are helping Wayfair "make shopping for the home easier for everyone."

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is editor of Retail Customer Experience and Food Truck Operator. She has decades of experience as a reporter, writer and editor covering technology and business for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews.

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