Little Caesars unveils Pizza Portal, letting customers grub and skip human interaction

Little Caesars' automated pizza portal allows customers to skip lines and the counter while in the store. (USA TODAY)

Introverts rejoice. Thanks to Little Caesars, pizza, like cash and gasoline is now on the list of things people can buy and use on the spot without ever dealing with another human being.

The company on Monday is unveiling The Pizza Portal, a machine that lets customers who pick up their pies skip the line, grab their pizza and go, in more than a dozen locations in the Tucson, Ariz. area.

Pizza lovers need only download the app to order and pay for their food. Next, they'll receive a 3-digit or QR code. Once at the store they need to enter or scan the code to open a self-service hot box at the shop, skipping the line and finishing their transaction in a few seconds.

"It’s cool,” David Scrivano, CEO of Little Caesars told USA TODAY. “It’s all about convenience. In and out in seconds. No line. No wait.”

The Detroit-based chain, which many people will remember for its 2-for-1 “Pizza Pizza” deal and long boxes holding two pies, is just one of many companies jumping on the automation bandwagon with the service which it calls Reserve-N-Ready. From ATMs to self-checkouts to vending machines, consumers have options that allow them to use technology to skip the small talk (and sometimes hassle) of dealing with people.

For companies, this kind of innovation can eventually result in cost savings in the form of layoffs or less hiring. At Little Caesers, adding the machines creates the need to require more hires to teach customers how to use the technology, Scrivano said.

“This will augment our staff,” Scrivano said.

The Pizza Portal is still in the testing stages. The company plans to add approximately 100 of the devices throughout the U.S. in 2018 and hopes the machines will help drive sales, which in turn, Scrivano said, would create a need for more hiring, including more in-store positions. “There will always be counter people,” he said.

Cupcake fans have been able to satisfy their late-night cravings at the Cupcake ATM, at Sprinkles Cupcakes, a nationwide bakery serving cupcakes, ice cream and cookies, since its launch in 2012.

The Cupcake ATM, with 12 locations throughout the United States, is a hit, the company said. So much so that customers often skip the in-store experience for the ATM even during business hours, according to Vice President of Marketing Nicole Schwartz. And in-line with Scrivano's vision for Little Caesers, the Cupcake ATM has boosted sales and supports jobs.

“I wouldn’t say there are less jobs,” Schwartz said. “It’s just different jobs,” including more delivery drivers to stock the stand-alone ATM and bakery support staff. “The ATMs have been really positive in terms of jobs because we’re selling more cupcakes,” she said.

Still increasing automation creates worry about employment prospects longer-term. Two-thirds of Americans think automation will impact the workforce over the next 50 years, replacing many jobs, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

“Right now, technology is really robust. It’s exciting to see some of the things happening,” said Janine N. Truitt, chief innovations offer for Talent Think Innovations, a business strategy and consulting firm in New York that analyzes the tech industry. “But if there is an opportunity for a company to operate without hiring as many people, that’s what they’re going to do. This whole aspect of efficiency over protecting jobs, for a lot of people that’s off-putting.”

But automation has an upside, economists say.  With the current low unemployment rate, which stands at 4.3%, and a tight labor market, some economists say automation will only enhance productivity in the overall economy.

“Automation does have an impact. There are some losers,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “But, if a worker does lose his or her job, they can find another job quickly. We have to adapt and adjust to technology. To stop the technology would be a huge error.”

Of course, computers don't help foster human relationships.

Dr. Larry Rosen, research psychologist and past chair of California State University, Dominguez Hills’ psychology department, has been studying the impacts of technology for 35 years. Rosen said the psychological effects of technology are troublesome and the more people distance themselves from face-to-face communication, the worse they get at communicating in real life.

“Every little bit makes a dent in our ability to understand others,” he said. “Humans have a real need for connection and affiliation. Automation is a win-lose situation. You’re winning in the sense that you get things done more quickly. But you’re losing in that you’re reducing interactions.”

Still, both introverts and extroverts are flocking to the new technologies—a trend that isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. Scrivano predicts the Pizza Portals will be a success.

“It’s just faster and makes life easier,” he said.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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