Starbucks testing in-app ordering in Portland before wider rollout next year


Starbucks has once again managed to roll out a feature that tech startups like Square, PayPal and others have been trying to pull off for years: the ability to marry smartphones and physical retail stores in a seamless and organic experience.

This week, the company rolled out a new feature called ‘Mobile Order & Pay’ in its Portland branches, expanding to other cities in 2015 (though a Canadian plan has not been solidified).

The gist is simple: the company feels that its lines are traditional service bottlenecks, so users will be able to submit orders from the iPhone app once they get within spitting distance of the store. Currently available on iOS only, with Android support coming next year, the app uses the phone’s GPS coordinates to determine proximity to a participating store and opens up the feature dynamically. With upwards of 15% of customers already paying for drinks using the Starbucks app, the company says further behaviour changes will come easily.

Because money is deducted from a Starbucks card, the company owns the entire cycle, and baristas get the orders out more quickly. Finished drinks are placed on the service counter, usually a communal area where people mill around, and have the customers’ names written on the cups to minimize confusion.

While Starbucks has always emphasized customer service, like many quick service outfits it’s been looking for ways to cut down on lines. There will be people with more esoteric or complicated orders that, despite using the app to pay will continue to wait in line, but any reduction in crowding is a win for both customers and staff (and Starbucks’ bottom line).