2014.17 | starbucks pre-ordering

660-Denver_Drive_ThruRecent news indicates that Starbucks will add order ahead capability to their mobile solution. I’m a daily user of the mobile payment app and even use Pebblebucks, but Starbucks may find mobile pre-ordering a more challenging system to implement.

Pre-ordering sounds great on paper and I think it can work in some environments but coffee represents some challenges.  Here are a few details that would need to be clarified:

  • What is fulfilment process? Order printer, kitchen display, other?
  • How are orders prioritized? If there is a line of customers in the store waiting, does the barista make the coffee for the absentees first?
  • When are ordered drinks made in relation to pickup time? Ice melts in cold drinks and hot drinks can cool quickly.  That’s a complicated equation for a barista with a long list of drinks to make from the till in the store.
  • How will queues be arranged in stores? Many stores are already short of real estate. Is there a separate queue or do they enter the same as everyone?
  • How do customers validate their order and take it away?
  • What happens if customers miss their pickup time?
  • How will customers and store staff be notified of the process change?  Will it require alterations to the store?  To current standardized processes that have been in place for years?

Starbucks are certainly working through the details but it will require a serious assessment of their current in store fulfilment processes. The questions above only scratch the surface.  Adding pre-ordering is a significant change to the system which will require the acceptance of new processes by both store staff and customers.

Panera Bread’s Founder and CEO Ron Shaich is embarking on just such a process and is doing the necessary legwork to change the business at the operational level. This is the right approach of Starbucks is committed to pre-orders. The right setup will require significant testing and adjustment.  Tacking a mobile ordering tool on the app is just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s the behind the scenes work that will have this system sink or swim.

From my perspective, there are too any places where pre-ordering can go wrong.

At a grocer I worked with, a kiosk was installed by the deli counter for ordering sliced cheese and meats. The concept was to enter your order and then complete your shopping through the rest of the market and return later with a ticket to pick up the order.  Instead of waiting in line, shoppers could shop while their order was assembled and pick up their deli order just prior to checkout.

What happened in reality is that shoppers saw a queue at the deli counter, walked over to the kiosk, entered an order, printed a ticket, and then walked to the deli counter and demanded their order from staff that were already slammed and getting order requests from two separate systems. This ended up displeasing staff, the kiosk users and shoppers who had waited in the ‘traditional’ line. Beyond these concerns, there was no obvious ROI from such a solution.  They didn’t buy more meat.

There was and is nothing wrong with the technology.  The technology is the easy part.  The system just didn’t fit the store without changing processes and customer expectations and making that plain to all parties.   Without complete commitment to a new paradigm by all parties, the result will be failure.

Imagine you walk into a Starbucks that is slammed with customers.  There is a long line and a 10 minute wait.  With this new system, how many people are going to see the queue, pull out their mobile and try to order with that to skip the queue? With the number of users Starbucks have for their mobile app, many people will certainly attempt this. If it works, it’s unfair to those in line. If it doesn’t, they may place a second order, putting strain on an already overloaded system.  Either way, it now adds thought to the process. Do I order ahead on the morning commute or just go in the store.

For any new system to flourish, there must be value to the retailer and to the customer. Whether there is value to both here remains to be seen. Customers may get their coffee faster, but if the process falters it could slow the whole store system. Will Starbucks sell more coffee? I’m not sure that pre-ordering will drive more sales.  Pre-ordering complicates the store system with what could be little upside to stores or customers.

photo-2-250x375If Starbucks wants to improve the process for stores and clients, they should consider ways of speeding transactions without making major changes to its fulfillment process which works fine as far as I have seen.  Ordering and order entry at Starbucks can range from the simple to the complex. Some customer get a Tall Pike Place.  Done.  Some customers ask for coffees with 6 adjectives and it takes baristas many keystrokes to enter.  Even simple orders require many keystrokes.  I order a very simple drink and always need to wait while the barista enters my order – though the staff at my store even have my order memorized.  It takes 10-15 touches to enter the order.  I’ve watched.

Consider an alternative to pre-ordering to kill the line.

  • If orders require many keystrokes and many users order the same thing again and again, why not automate the order entry?  Starbucks has more than 10 million users for their mobile app.  Users are trained to use the app to pay.
  • Why not build a drink builder that allows users to configure and save drinks within the app?
  • Use the Starbucks app to configure a drink as it used to do.
  • The app generates a unique id barcode that repesents that drink order.  The code is saved on the phone for repeated use.
  • Customer scans their mobile at the POS on currently installed scanner to order.
  • The barcode can be a string that the register recognizes as the full drink with all foams, soys, non-fats, whatever.
  • The point of sale system is populated with the drink details and the barista can confirm with the customer instead of tapping 15 times.
  • Avoiding entry would save precious seconds off of many transactions, and increase throughput.
  • Avoiding entry by barista could also enable consumers to order something different than their usual without having to figure out how to order it and go through the translation discussion with the barista.
  • Users could share their codes with friends and save them in their own apps so that we can order for them correctly.
  • Don’t these guys know my name?  With a bit of customization the customers name can show on the screen so we don’t see any more of those cups with the crazy names on them, speeding the pickup process.

Pre-ordering could work, and I am hopeful that Starbucks will find the magic formula to make it so, but I’m not yet convinced that this will make lines shorter.  It doesn’t look like a simple path, but kudos for trying something new!

Simple is good.  Even if something isn’t simple on the back end, it must appear that way to clients.

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