Arslan Sharif: “Just another loyalty scheme would simply not do”

By Arslan Sharif

- Last updated on GMT

Arslan Sharif on how PizzaExpress has linked the physical and the digital with its restaurant loyalty app

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The digital and loyalty director at PizzaExpress on how the group has linked the physical and the digital with its sophisticated and highly-successful loyalty app.

In today’s casual dining sector, apps and digital loyalty schemes have become critical tools in driving engagement and cultivating meaningful relationships between restaurants and their customers. At PizzaExpress, we’ve pushed the customer experience to the heart of our digital dining strategy, creating an industry leading and omnichannel solution that continues to grow and develop.

Across my career I have led digital transformations across the retail, banking and energy sectors, but I was particularly excited to join PizzaExpress for the obvious loyalty and brand affinity in the UK and Ireland. We had this excellent foundation to build something special, with millions dining in our restaurants, bestselling supermarket products, 670,000+ followers across social media, and over 200,000 website visitors ever week. 

As digital and loyalty director, the question became quickly apparent: How can we best leverage this pre-existing loyalty to create a synchronised dining experience that links both the physical and digital as customer behaviour shifts increasingly digital? We knew that it needed to be something unique, ‘just another loyalty scheme’ would simply not do. 

Moving fast to address changing consumer behaviour and embrace digital technologies, and credit to the hearts and minds of our internal teams, we launched the PizzaExpress Club app in December 2021, named as such to provide our members with an exclusive feeling of being in ‘the Club’. We pivoted away from traditional ‘deep discount’ mobile app models and instead opted to deliver greater value through free rewards ‘every time you dine’, whether that be our iconic dough balls and garlic butter or Piccolo meals. This broke conventional loyalty scheme norms, delivering instant gratification every time customers dined using the digitally-enabled omnichannel app. 

By dining in restaurants, ordering delivery, collecting in person, and picking up our delicious pizzas at the supermarket, members of the Club app collect stamps and progress through the Bronze-Silver-Gold tier system. In practice, if a member purchases an American Hot on the supermarket aisle, for example, they simply scan the internal QR code and the stamps will sync to their account automatically. We were the first to pioneer this model in casual dining, and we continue to lead the industry this way. 

From the moment the app is downloaded, we wanted customers to be able to tailor their experience to be as uniquely personal as they like, by inputting information such as their most convenient location, dietary requirements, and who they like to dine with, such as families, friends, or even if they dined on their own; all of which helps make the experience as bespoke as ever, distinguishing ourselves from other loyalty schemes.

Furthermore, we knew that the app had to blend seamlessly with the table-oriented PizzaExpress experience that our customers know and love, so we allowed customers to ‘check-in’ to their tables via the app. This way they can browse the menu, apply free rewards, and split their bill at the end. 

For customers that might prefer to stay in, we have also introduced PizzaExpress Delivers to our digital offering. Orders can be made directly from our website and enjoyed from wherever the customer chooses. We introduced the feature this year, following the digital simplification of our collection service in 2022. 

Our visual identity has also been instrumental in aligning the omnichannel experience. Between our classic logo and iconic marble tables, we have a distinct aesthetic, therefore it was crucial that the PizzaExpress Club app reflect the brand this way. Mirroring our nationwide renovations that have modernised the in-person experience for millions, as well as revamping our retail packaging, the Club app has itself undergone a recent facelift that is more stylish and uplifting, amplifying its simplicity and ease-of-use and bringing it closer together with the new visual identity.

So far, the scheme has proven incredibly successful. Since the app launched, over two million people have joined the PizzaExpress Club – a testament to the brand’s staying power and the truly unique rewards on offer. Over 150,000 have signed up after being referred by an existing friend or family member, which is great to see members spreading the word, and our customer survey ‘How Did We Dough’ showed that members have a 9% higher satisfaction rating. 

The future of digital experiences in the hospitality sector is promising, and we like to see ourselves as trendsetters in the area. The PizzaExpress digital offering has gone from strength to strength, proving a true asset from both the company and the customer’s perspectives, and we are confident that it will continue to deliver and improve over time.  

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