Starbucks Mobile App Kills The Killer Coffee Lines

When I stepped off the train into the Montgomery Bart station in San Francisco today, I immediately ran into the image of a green mermaid. I know her well, as she graces many corner storefronts around the world. She is the lady of Starbucks, and this week the company’s taken over the entire station in a massive ad campaign to promote its new app. On Sept. 22 the coffee retail giant expanded its Mobile Order & Pay service nationwide, and it went live in Canada and the UK this week. Starbucks has long been a tech innovator – but the company’s latest mobile move offers a consumer experience that could spur a chain reaction amongst retailers.

Why? Because it could KILL the killer lines and give people a faster caffeine fix. And isn’t that something everyone can appreciate?

The Starbucks app allows users to pre-order and pay for drinks on their phones so that when they arrive at the store, they don’t have to wait in line. Additionally, the app encourages the personalization of drink orders in a way that is far quicker and more accurate than explaining your drink to a barista. Upon placing an order, customers receive an estimated time of completion based on an algorithm developed by the coffee chain.

Starbucking the Line

 When customer lines became too long and wait times increased, Starbucks profits started falling. And like so many business problems today, the solution came in the form of a mobile app. In Dec. 2014 the Fortune 500 company launched Mobile Order & Pay in Portland, Oregon. After 3 months of testing, it expanded to 650 coffee shops in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Then 3,400 more stores over the summer. Last month, it finally rolled out nationally to 7,400 coffee shops. And it’s changing the way Starbucks does business.

According to the brass at Starbucks, the result of the app has been increased drink accuracy and customer satisfaction. Starbucks data reveals the mobile app is not only more accurate, but also generates more revenue per transaction. And that’s accomplished by smart design. Customers are presented with a screen of all possible drink combinations – there are 80,000 possible combinations. It’s far easier to read and order (and add to the price with customizations) from the app than a massive board behind a barista.

A Sourcebit of Advice

 Starbucks hasn’t released performance reports for the app, but the company says it’s seeing customers save time and, in many cases, customers actually prefer digital ordering to a barista. In the future, Starbucks envisions its app will balance out the flow in all its stores as people default to less busy stores with shorter wait times. The company also reports the app is paving the road to a coffee delivery service.

As Starbucks gains popularity, consumers will begin expecting mobile ordering as a normal experience. Great mobile apps are a field-tested technology that improves the consumer experience, increases loyalty and boosts revenue. It should come as no surprise that several major companies in the food and beverage industry are following the Starbucks example. Taco Bell recently launched, their take on the ‘preorder and customize’ mobile app for ultimate customer convenience. McDonalds corp. is also currently in the development stages of a mobile order ahead app. Soon, waiting in line might be a novel experience vs. the norm. And that’s all thanks to mobile apps.

At Sourcebits, our dedicated and team of developers and designers is committed to building the best mobile apps, because our business, is making your business better. What can a mobile app do for your business? Sourcebits can help you find out. Want to find out more? Let’s meet over coffee and discuss your app… We’ll order ahead from the Starbucks across the street.


Piotr Gajos, Chief Innovation Officer

Piotr is Sourcebits Chief Innovation Officer. A 2006 Apple Design Award winner, Piotr draws much of his inspiration from film and music, and focuses on leading our Innovation Strategy Workshops, generating new ideas for Sourcebits, and consulting on projects.