Starbucks has been a leader in digital innovation, from mobile payments to in-store Wi-Fi networks that offered free online content. All that has been initiated since Howard Schultz, who built the company, returned in 2008 as CEO. Behind that very public tech investment, though, Schultz backed a major investment in IT infrastructure, including point of sale, inventory management, and CRM, since his return to the helm. Curt Garner--who as head of business technology led much of that the implementation, and was recently appointed CIO--has said that those investments took a back seat to Starbucks' growth initiatives to add stores. Now that those IT investments are in place, Schultz explained during the Q-and-A of its fourth-quarter conference call how he expects them to pay off for years to come:
"What I would say is, first of all, in terms of the technology in our U.S. stores, we have, as you mentioned, made significant investments into the stores: Point of sale; inventory management for the first time in our history; we are working on a new labor scheduling tool, which will come later this year; all of which are about improving the aspects of our partners lives and our stores, making the customer experience better. And ultimately, we believe all will contribute to financial results. Now there is a period of time in which we learn to really optimize all of that technology. And I would suggest that even the aggressive targets we've established for 2012 don't yet really begin to reflect the upside we think will ultimately come from those tools. I think the improvement that we would expect to see meaningfully across the system perhaps begins in 2012, but I would suggest becomes more visible really as we move into 2013 and beyond."