- Chipotle Mexican Grill next week will introduce Pepper, a "concierge bot" that lets customers place orders through Facebook Messenger. Staring on June 22, customers can activate Pepper by clicking on the messaging button on Chipotle's page in the Facebook app or website, per an announcement.
- Pepper will start the conversation by asking for the customer's location and finding the nearest Chipotle restaurant. The chatbot will guide users through several steps to place an order for pickup or delivery. Customers can customize the amount of ingredients and side orders, or tell Pepper what they want with natural-language descriptions. Pepper also handles payment information and the login to the Chipotle Rewards loyalty program.
- Chipotle also introduced its mobile app to Canada, giving customers in the region another way to order food. The burrito chain also takes orders through the Chipotle.ca website, and food-delivery apps such as DoorDash and Uber Eats, per its announcement.
Chipotle's planned rollout of its Pepper chatbot on Facebook Messenger is notable for using a budding technology to engage customers and to automate customer service functions. Facebook Messenger is the most popular chat app in the U.S., giving Chipotle a chance to connect with a broad base of customers among its more than 2,600 locations nationwide. While restaurants are slowly reopening with the easing of pandemic lockdowns, Chipotle is likely to maintain a strong reliance on mobile ordering for delivery and pickup for months to come.
Chipotle's announcement also is notable for touting Pepper's natural-language ability. Chatbots have faced criticism in recent years for not understanding idioms and other nuances of human conversation, but Pepper may mark a significant advancement in the technology.
Facebook's support for chatbots has gone through a variety of stages over the years. CEO Mark Zuckerberg four years ago touted chatbots as a promising technology to automate customer service and e-commerce transactions. However, the company this year revamped its Messenger chat app to focus on Stories while de-emphasizing chatbots as part of a redesign. Most recently, researchers at the company touted breakthroughs in developing chatbots for shopping, a sign that Facebook still sees potential for conversational commerce.
Chatbots' growing sophistication can help to boost online sales for companies like Chipotle, which last year expanded its use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to handle phone orders and save on labor costs. Consumer spending through chatbots is forecast to surge to $142 billion by 2024 from $2.8 billion in 2019, Juniper Research estimated. Discrete chatbots — technology embedded directly into a mobile app rather than accessed through a separate browser or messenger — are forecast to generate 80% of global spending through chatbots by 2024. The research suggests more marketers like Chipotle will adopt the tech in the next few years.