What Can Amazon One Do for Panera?

Besides speeding the payment process, the palm imaging system holds promise for loyalty conversion
Panera Bread
Photograph: Shutterstock

With a pilot of Amazon One’s palm-imaging technology underway in its headquarters market of St. Louis, Panera Bread is being strategic about where it tests the biometric-based system.

Next up is Seattle, Amazon’s hometown, later this year, said George Hanson, Panera’s chief digital officer during a talk on frictionless loyalty innovation at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago on Sunday.

Hanson and Jason Templeman, director of Amazon One, discussed how the palm-scanning device works and what its future capabilities might be. Templeton said it will be in all Whole Foods locations as a payment convenience by the end of the year. Inc. announced Monday Amazon One would offer age verification capabilities for beer purchases at Coors Field in Denver.

At Panera Bread, on the other hand, it’s too soon to know whether the restaurant will roll out the program to all of its locations, but it’s showing promise in converting customers to Panera’s loyalty program. Hanson told CSP Daily News the St. Louis-based restaurant chain hasn’t disclosed how the biometric-based payment pilot is going in the St. Louis market. 

Two convenience store chains also are piloting the Amazon One technology. Three Everbase stores in Minot, North Dakota and seven Energy Mart stores in the Henderson, North Carolina area also have pilot tests going of the Amazon One payment system.

Offering to link the program to loyalty has encouraged consumers to sign up for Panera’s loyalty program right in its participating cafés, Hanson said. The company is keen on consumer insights, he said.  

By linking loyalty to the guest’s palm image, the restaurant can be certain of the customer’s identity, Hanson said. Panera’s loyalty program also works from phone numbers and plastic cards. 

Panera ultimately strives to deliver “the generous extra touch” to its customers. “How do we exceed their expectations?” Hanson asked rhetorically, noting, “We don’t hunt for technology and solutions just because they’re interesting.”

As Panera thought about how it could make loyalty more convenient and more valuable, it decided to try Amazon One, he said. “We also had a philosophy of making big bets with big partners,” Gordon said.

Amazon One helped to bring “the personalization of an app” inside the four walls of Panera’s cafes, Hanson said. Panera associates have more opportunities to connect with consumers instantly, by asking if the customer wants to order a favorite item or by making recommendations based on past purchases, Gordon said. “Tech plays a key strategic asset role in providing that guest experience,” he said.

Amazon One customers don’t have to fumble for their credit cards, and associates will make fewer mistakes entering transactional data, Gordon said. “You take the stress away from the associate and you take the stress away from the guest,” he said.

Panera was an early entrant in the loyalty realm back in 2010 and now has over 52 million loyalty members, Gordon said. Its new $11.99 per month Unlimited Sip Club, a self-serve beverage option also priced at $119 per year, has enticed new loyalty members, he said. The company also sends notices of new products to its loyal customers first, Gordon said.

By integrating with loyalty programs, Amazon One “propels the digital flywheel,” Templeton said. While Amazon's not in a rush, the palm-imaging product is gaining momentum, he said.

As more retailers sign on to Amazon One, the convenience factor for consumers will become more obvious, Templeton said. “From getting food and drink at Panera to shopping at Whole Foods or going to a game,” Amazon One will let consumers make purchases and enter the stadium quickly and easily, he said. While consumers might get a new phone number, their palms won’t change.

By expediting authentication and easy of payment, the system allows associates to do more “customer-centric activities,” Templeton said.

Amazon is aware of security and privacy concerns related to biometrics and doesn’t store information on the palm-image devices, Templeton said. A third-party provider specializing in data security encrypts the data. “You break that trust and it’s very difficult to get it back,” he said. Customers can decide to have their data deleted, Templeton said.

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