Starbucks has an online ordering program available to customers using the Starbucks app on their iPhone. For those unfamiliar, the app is pretty weird. It bridges the gulf between gift card, loyalty card, store locator, and “special offers” inbox. Before you can use the online order, you must have money on a Starbucks gift card, or you can create a virtual gift card inside of the app and load it via a credit card, PayPal, or Apple Pay. This is honestly the weirdest part. It’s like buying Xbox Live points, but at least there’s the utility, and security of Apple Pay.
Once Starbucks captures your money, you can brandish your iPhone at any Starbucks register, and get it scanned to pay for orders. Customers can now use the app to browse the menu and place orders for pickup at a store, bypassing Starbucks’ lines.
This is a key differentiating factor between Starbucks and every other coffee company out there: convenience. They need to compete on convenience because their coffee usually tastes like cremated goats. Even if you are a fussy coffee drinker, it’s important to take a pragmatic look at how Starbucks is deploying technology.
Press “Order” in the Starbucks app and you’ll see a little collage with any previous order at the top, and some other photos of suggestions below. A search box appears at the bottom, and clicking on it brings up the standard categories, as well as just letting you type the name of what you’re looking for. The menu displayed is for the nearest Starbucks location to you. You can swipe to other locations, or manipulate the map to find them. You don’t have access to search for an address (let’s say you’re driving somewhere and want coffee at the destination). All locations seem to display the same “2-5 minutes” for your potential order.
For some reason, Starbucks’ reserved roasts they use in their Clover machines are not available for purchase at any location I’ve examined so far. I suspect that’s because the availability of the beans varies so widely they decided to skip that level of inventory tracking.
Once you select an item, you can pick and choose what goes in it. The first time I placed an order via the app I made the mistake of not examining what it considered standard to include. I was quite unhappy to find 4 pumps of “classic syrup” in my iced coffee. This can be easily altered, and it was user error, but I do encourage you to examine what’s toggled on in your beverage.
Once an order is placed, you receive an immediate modal notification that a receipt is available to view, and a tip can be left. A banner notification also drops down, and the screen behind the banner and the modal dialog shows the order is confirmed. They should tweak that part of the experience.
Leaving a tip is painless. You can adjust it after leaving the tip, or wait to leave it at all until much later in the same day (I believe the window is 8 hours?) and it comes out of the same card-money. This is nice if you haven’t had time to go to the ATM, but at the same time, I have to imagine that cash tips are preferred.
The pickup experience is as awkward as I’m capable of making it. The first location I picked up a beverage from made the drink in under a minute so I wasn’t even sure it was mine. The app also says you should “ask the barista” for your order, so I did because I didn’t want to just grab and drink and walk out. He pointed out that the printed label that said “JOSEPH > MOBILE” was, indeed, my mobile order. The second Starbucks location was busy kicking out drinks, and I didn’t see mine on the counter so I waited quietly. Eventually, the barista asked me if I was waiting for an iced Americano. I sheepishly replied that I was, but not the “venti” size she was holding with “DENISE” written on the side with marker. I started to explain that it was a mobile order, in the only way I know how (with too much detail) and before I could finish she was apologizing for and pulled a completed drink out from behind the counter. I apologized back because I should have just asked right off the bat, instead of looking for it on the counter like the first place. Picking up online orders is totes awk.
I would rank each experience highly for speed, and for the intangible benefit of not having to stand in a line and listening to other people order things. Their coffee is still their coffee.