Geekend: Starbucks Order Ahead App? No, Thanks - InformationWeek
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12/5/2014
01:31 PM
David Wagner
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Geekend: Starbucks Order Ahead App? No, Thanks

Starbucks' new app will be popular, but it shouldn't be.

In the time it takes you to read this opening paragraph, you can now order a coffee from Starbucks on your phone, pay for it, and have it waiting for you when you arrive -- complete with your name misspelled on the cup.

Yes, Starbucks has a new order-ahead app for folks who just can't wait for their morning caffeine fix. Everyone is all abuzz: "Why didn't we think of that?" The answer: It's an awful idea. This app is like ordering a venti whole-milk egg nog latte -- it sounds delicious, until you realize it has 620 calories.

I hate this app as much as I hate when I tell the barista to leave room for milk, and she fills my cup to the top. I hate this app more than the time they wrote Knave instead of Dave on my cup. I mean, come on, that guy had to be messing with me. I hate this app more than people who say McDonald's makes better coffee than Starbucks.

OK, full disclosure: I don't drink coffee. The only time I go to Starbucks is when I'm with caffeine-addicted friends. That Knave thing happened to someone else. But I still hate this app.

[Lighten up on Black Friday, folks -- we all love a tech deal. Read Stop The Black Friday & Cyber Week Hating.]

Why do I hate this app? You might not remember it, but there was a time when Starbucks stood for slowing down. The idea of Starbucks was to sit down with your coffee in a pleasant environment, enjoy the flavors, and talk to friends or read a good book. It had comfy chairs and WiFi when the rest of the restaurant world had plastic booths and bad Muzak. Starbucks was supposed to be the little trendy coffee shop every town had (except every town didn't have it). It was Central Perk for Middle America.

Then Starbucks added drive-through windows and pay-by-phone apps, so you could get out quicker. Now this is the last straw. The company that asked you to take it slow is now trying to get you out the door faster than McDonald's. I know people need their caffeine, but the only thing left is an IV to skip that troublesome digestion process.

This is what Starbucks says it stands for:

This is what this app shows it stands for:

Why does all this matter? Well, it doesn't really. People are going to love it. People are going to drink coffee the way they want to, and that's fine.

On the other hand, it does matter. It matters because the No. 1 rule of technology is don't talk about technology. Oh, wait, wrong rules. The first rule of technology is that, if doesn't make life better, we don't need it.

Most people, especially engineers, forget that rule. They don't even think it is a rule. That's why Silicon Valley is full of apps trying to deliver pizza 10 seconds faster. That's OK, it is Silicon Valley.

But Starbucks ought to know better. Not because it is more ethical or special -- because until recently it was the king of knowing who it was and what it did. Everything from the food to the décor right down to the CDs for sale in the basket by the register -- it was all definitively Starbucks. This app is not organic to the values of Starbucks. It does not match the values of its core customers. It does not match the marketing of the company itself. It is fast food for a slow food company.

That matters to any IT professional. Because if your app isn't aligned to your company values, your marketing strategy, and your customer's needs, your app is pointless.

I'm not saying the app will fail. The app will be a wild success. But it is taking Starbucks down a road it shouldn't want to go down. Walk into McDonald's, and you'll see timers that show how long it takes from when you order to when you get your food. I've seen it as low as 17 seconds, which frightens me.

This app means Starbucks is going to start thinking about telling customers how long it takes their double mocha latte to go from being ordered to being served. It will find ways to cut the process and increase table turnover. In short, this app, and the thinking behind it -- as well as the thinking behind the drive-through -- will slowly change the company irrevocably from what it was.

If you're a Starbucks customer, you will love this app. If you're an IT pro, please hate it. Please recognize the value of aligning your technological services with the values of your company -- or at least knowing where you are headed.

OK, rant over. I wonder if there is a place I could go relax for a few minutes and have a nice beverage and a pastry. It would help me calm down. We used to have one down the street, but they replaced it with this fast food coffee place. You can't even get in the parking lot because of the drive-through.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2014 | 10:58:35 AM
Pre-order coffee with a coffee machine plugged in
I wonder if it will occur to anyone when using the app before they get into the car that they could,gasp, make coffee in their home and take with them? (My coffee maker is on the same outlet as the phone charger, so I have to walk by the coffee maker to get to the phone to pre-order my coffee. If the point of the app is to get your coffee fast, right now, so you can go, go, go, then why bother with a store when most people have a coffee maker on their counter. you can slap that in a thermos and you're off to the races. The whole point of overpriced coffee from starbucks is not the coffee but the experience of sitting in an over stuffed chair with jazz music and a good friend or at least a coworker you liked if you had to discuss business. I can drink any kind of coffee in the car. Does starbucks realize where this could be heading?
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/10/2014 | 11:15:00 PM
Re: StarBucks Order Ahead App? No, Thanks.
@SaneIT, the order ahead app is less about efficiency than it is about placating top customers. It's a customer centric approach --- meaning it's not for casual consumers of Starbucks coffee, it's for their everyday customers who pop in at certain times, order the same drink, then rush back to work or school. Baristas already know these people, already know their drinks ... the app just digitizes that love.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
12/10/2014 | 7:07:38 AM
Re: StarBucks Order Ahead App? No, Thanks.
@David, if automated ordering works out which I think it will then they will devise a pickup system that does not include having to wait on a human to hand you your coffee.  What we're building here are more efficient queues so having someone push to the front of the regular line to get their order is going to slow that line down and taking a human away from the regular line to create a "pre-order" line is going to cause the same problem. I suspect we'll see a line of cups with receipts attached at first then move to a more technical solution later.
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
12/10/2014 | 6:14:14 AM
Re: Starbuck Apps
"That would be awesome - but how much you need to pay for it? Starbucks will need to have a dedicated "production line" for the orders placed over App, assume that many people start using it."

Li, at the end everything is business and they have to attract more customers.
Gigi3
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Gigi3,
User Rank: Ninja
12/10/2014 | 6:12:15 AM
Re: Starbuck Apps
" I'm sure they are working on coffee pipelines straight to offices. The tough part, i hear, is the sugar."

David, you can order without sugar too:).
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/10/2014 | 12:01:24 AM
Re: StarBucks Order Ahead App? No, Thanks.
Dave, But ordering pizza like that is not new. After you have ordered you get a message saying when you can pick it up. This is useful after work. You place the order on your way home, stop tp pick up your pizza and go quickly to devour it watching a movie. :D -Susan
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2014 | 8:04:18 PM
Re: Starbucks: Sales, Sales, Sales !
@David - you're right in that it probably does not make sense unless it is en masse.  But all I care about is me getting my coffee.  hahaha.  Joking.  Sort of. :)

But thanks for that heads up re the delivery.  I was not aware - however, I'm thinking UBER may just beat them to the punch.  After all, they are doing lunch and just starting delivering dinner (in certain areas - guess what's for dinner tonight for me??), coffee seems like a natural progression.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
12/9/2014 | 7:45:27 PM
Re: Starbucks: Sales, Sales, Sales !
@vnewman2- A service is being advertised in my area promising warm, fresh from the over chocolate chip cookies delivered straight to my door in 20 minutes. THAT's cooking.

Starbucks actually announced that delivery will be coming in 2015 to test areas. You have to be a part of their loyalty program and details are still sketchy. I'm hoping for coffee drones. 

But honestly, I think the problem with coffee delivery is the expense per average purchase. Is it worth the gas and the driver to delivery a $5 coffee? At least pizza is $20 or so in most areas. 
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2014 | 6:08:32 PM
Re: Starbucks: Sales, Sales, Sales !
@David - I'll take it one step further and say - what I really want is for Starbucks to come to me!  A Starbucks delivery app!  Now we are cooking with grease!!!
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
12/9/2014 | 1:25:15 PM
Re: StarBucks Order Ahead App? No, Thanks.
@SaneIt- You're right. Now, at least they have to hand it to you. But eventually they'll probably just set it on a counter and hope people get the right one.
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