If you can’t beat them, join them.
With customers abandoning malls and other shopping areas in favor of shopping by phone or computer, Auntie Anne’s is joining them there.
The Lancaster, Pa.-based chain has started online ordering and delivery, hoping to take its pretzels to customers who’ve been less apt to shop at the mall, where many of its shops are located.
“Times have changed,” Auntie Anne’s President Heather Neary said in an interview. “Malls are not overly busy. Everything’s changed and this is a new world.”
A couple of fortunate customers won’t even need a phone to place the order. The company revealed a unique new recliner, the “Recline-to-Dine Chair,” that enables a customer to order pretzel delivery simply by reclining their chair.
The bright blue recliner is WiFi enabled, so it can make delivery orders based on the position of the chair. Auntie Anne’s plans to auction the chair off to raise funds for Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
The company had planned to use the chair to show off its delivery service before the pandemic started. Auntie Anne’s had conceived of the idea as it considered ideas to market its new services.
“A lot of companies have online ordering,” Neary said. “We wanted to do something unique.”
Anne’s has been working on strategies to branch outside of its mall locations for some time, as consumers slowly shifted away from shopping in brick-and-mortar retail areas toward more online sources.
Unit volumes grew last year despite the declining mall traffic, according to data from Restaurant Business sister company Technomic, as the company ramped up marketing and began pushing services like delivery.
The pandemic dramatically emphasized the need for non-mall services as shopping areas closed and people stayed home. In April, Anne’s began selling at-home pretzel making kits in a bid to get at customers looking for activities.
The company initially made them in its own manufacturing facility, and then they sold so well Anne’s pulled back and got franchisees involved. Operators themselves are now making the kits, which get sent directly to customers doors with the ingredients needed to make pretzels and directions.
“People are looking for activities, and people love our pretzels,” Neary said. “This gave us a chance to satisfy both.”
The chain already had delivery, and convinced drivers to go into malls to pick up pretzels to deliver to customers’ homes. These days, Neary said, mall operators are far more open to giving Anne’s and other concepts the delivery parking and other amenities they need to make such trips more convenient.
“Contactless” mobile ordering is another key step, giving customers the ability to order their pretzels via app or get them delivered—DoorDash provides the last-mile delivery, Neary said. The company’s Pretzel Perks app also lets customers earn points for free menu items and other awards.
Mobile ordering has been a big winner for many chains during the pandemic, as customers have sought easy methods to access restaurants and flocked to any service perceived to be safer.
“We believe it’s important for the future,” Neary said of mobile ordering.
The Recline to Dine promotion, which officially starts on Tuesday, is designed to promote the app. Anne’s has a website, ReclineToDine.com, where customers can enter to win prizes. The grand prize is a year of free pretzels, a year of streaming services, an Auntie Anne’s pretzel pillow, blanket and socks, and $1,200 to purchase their own recliner.