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Big interview: Papa John's UK marketing director Andrew Gallagher

Mobile retailing, digital payments and maintaining customer loyalty are three key fundamentals on most retailers' to-do lists right now – and for US pizza chain Papa John's things are no different.

But when operating in the deal-driven environment of the pizza delivery industry and as a company still looking to gain a larger slice of the market share from more dominant players in the UK, the focus on technology and customer engagement arguably becomes even more crucial.

Having recently reported some strong first-quarter financial figures for its international business, where revenue grew $3.7 million year on year, like-for-like sales jumped by 6.4% and UK profits were up, there is an appetite for further growth – and the company is developing new technological solutions and using new methods of insight to help it achieve this goal.

UK marketing director Andrew Gallagher told Essential Retail: "I believe Papa John's, as the challenger brand in the space, needs to be at the forefront of innovation, so my personal point of view is that we need to be the first to do things and the first to try things and to look into tools such as new payment methods.

"We certainly want to make sure that everything that is good about our businesses is available to mobile customers, especially the loyalty scheme. We are in discussions with a bunch of digital payment providers and that will be important to the future because more and more people will get used to that way of paying.

"Whether it's PayPal, Paym, Pingit – it is an area that's very interesting to us because pizza ordering is all about convenience. It'll be a vital part of the mix going forward."

Research released earlier this month by e-tail trade body IMRG and consultancy Capgemini showed that UK eCommerce sales in April grew 17% year on year, equating to an estimated £7.8 billion spent online during the month. It was the fourth consecutive month that annual growth in e-retail sales has exceeded the performance in the comparable period in 2013.

Gallagher revealed that around 50% of transactions now made at Papa John's are online and, like the wider market, this figure is expected to continue growing.

The business is continually working on its desktop presence, but it is mobile where much of the development work is focused, with the marketing director suggesting the customer experience needs to be "the best it can be".

In such a competitive environment, where consumers tend to chase the deals, it becomes even more important for a business to offer points of difference. Gallagher admitted that the company analyses the patterns online, where potential customers will go from one website to another to compare prices and deals, which is a trend that naturally brings significant challenges when it comes to retaining customer loyalty.

"If you focus your efforts on customer acquisition with the big deals then what you hope to do is to retain people with quality of service and quality of product," he noted.

"There are other elements as well; we have a loyalty scheme and our competition do not, and this gives people added incentive to stay with us. But the only way you win this battle is through quality. People in the last couple of years have wanted to spend less but they still want the best value for money."

For Papa John's, there are medium- to long-term plans to provide loyalty scheme members with additional benefits and, potentially, work with partners in the loyalty space – but for now much of the business's work centres on gathering public opinion of the brand.

One new partner for Papa John's is customer communication solutions provider Rant & Rave, which is helping the retailer collect consumer feedback at the point of delivery and via the company's website.

Pizza boxes now all boast a call to action, inviting customers to share their thoughts on the food or service, via QR code or text message. Consumers provide a 1-5 rating before writing a message to summarise their experience, helping the pizza firm gain real-time feedback that is filtered through to individual franchisees and head office.

A trend that once again highlights consumers' propensity to use their mobile phones, Gallagher says that text message responses are by far the most popular platform for feedback, although QR codes and the online widget are also used to a degree.

He commented: "Like a lot of businesses we are very focused on standards. Every day, we look at average delivery times, how long orders took to complete, accuracy of orders, and we do our mystery shops – we do all these things to find out what kind of service we are delivering, which is very important.

"For me as a marketer, I want to know how customers feel about it. 'Did the customer actually like it?' is the question most important to me, and this is what Rant & Rave captures, which we haven't captured in a meaningful way before. It's such valuable insight, hearing what customers think and feel."

Alongside plans to invest in the loyalty programme and investigate new ways of using mobile to boost the business, Papa John's is set to continue growing its store estate outside of the US over the coming months.

There are already approximately 4,500 stores in operation around the world, with the 1,000th international store unveiled at the tail end of 2013. In the UK, there are certainly ambitious plans to add to the 250-strong existing portfolio with around 30 new outlets in the pipeline this year.

"There's a lot of share out there and there are a lot of towns we are not in yet," Gallagher explained.

"From a UK point of view, we are growing fast. There is clearly a leader in our marketplace, Domino's, but we believe there's a whole load of growth here – and we're pushing hard on that."

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