Starbucks mobile ordering put to test almost one year after UK launch

After nearly a year of hearing about how good the Starbucks mobile app and loyalty scheme is supposed to be, Essential Retail editor, Ben Sillitoe, finally puts it to the test as a customer.

Having been a dedicated retail tech scribe for a number of years now, it was probably about time I gave the Starbucks app a whirl.

I’ve interviewed IT leaders from the Starbucks organisation, I’ve heard them talk at industry events and I’ve listened to other people in the retail and hospitality space tell me that the company’s mobile order and pay function is truly game-changing, in terms of rapid click & collect capability. Now – probably later than it should have been considering it was launched in the UK almost 12 months ago and has been running in the US for much longer – I’ve signed up to see what all the fuss is about from a consumer perspective.

First impressions were good. Loved the one touch Apple Pay transfer because I was setting up the service on my iPhone 6, but I was a little disappointed that I was required to deposit a minimum of £10. It makes business sense, I suppose, and it was a loyalty scheme I was signing up for after all, but half that amount might have been more palatable.

The GPS mapping was useful to help find my nearest store, but signing up in Covent Garden I was keen to visit the latest digital concept store which opened near Leicester Square last autumn and it wasn’t as intuitive as I’d hoped to locate that particular destination. I settled for Russell Street, and when I collected just five minutes later I actually walked past my Flat White which was awaiting me at the front of the store. My natural inclination was that I’d have to wait in line – but that was, of course, unnecessary.

All in all it was a positive customer experience. From little things, such as the app automatically uppercasing the letters when I entered my postcode to the receipt being stapled to my coffee on arrival, to the sophisticated tech that is enabling the quick-fire service.

The digital loyalty scheme built in avoids the need for a paper stamp card, too, and that is a convenient factor for the modern shopper.

A lot of the marketing around the coffee chain’s app centred on how it makes people’s lives easier with just the click of a button, so I felt the only fair test of its capabilities was to use it again now that the initial account set-up process was all out of the way.

Days later while at London’s Trafalgar Square, on the way to recording an episode of Essential Retail’s Retail Ramble podcast, I decided to make my order. The app told me my coffee would be ready within three to seven minutes at the St Martin’s Lane branch. I walked in two minutes later, skipped a queue of nine people and picked up my Flat White to go without a fuss. Under-promising and then over-delivering.

Clearly orders from app users are being prioritised by the company – or Starbucks have at least got someone dedicated to fulfilling these particular transactions in their stores – but the ability to jump a long queue en route to an important meeting was a real positive for me. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, and I don’t necessarily fit into this camp, you’ll see the benefits this service might bring. Especially for commuters wanting to grab a coffee at the station before their long train journey slog into or back from work. No missing the train while waiting to pick up you hot drink.

One question I have is what would happen if the majority of its orders were made this way? A substantial number of people in the US, Canada and the UK already use the service – and this could increase following its launch on the Windows 10 platform earlier this month – but if everyone was suddenly pre-ordering, then wouldn’t that just change the queue dynamics? If ten commuters looking to grab a Starbucks from their local station before heading into either London, Manchester, Birmingham or Sheffield on their respective early morning trains, would that not cause a backlog in the store?

Perhaps that’s a worry for another time. I’m sure retailers can find a solution if services they offer become over-popular.

I guess now it’s just up to me to work on a more creative coffee order. But with my last order so clearly stated at the top of my Starbucks app, complete with a photograph of said drink, it’s all too easy to keep repeating the purchase. If that’s the thought process of the masses then I guess that’ll do Starbucks just fine.

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