starbucksStarbucks is brewing up a way for customers to not just pay for their coffee via the company’s popular smartphone app, but to order coffee from their phone, too.

The coffee chain’s Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman outlined the plan at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo., describing how mobile ordering will work when a pilot launches later this year.

“We plan to test the ability to not only pay with your phone at Starbucks stores, tip with your phone, but order ahead with your phone at Starbucks stores in the U.S.,” a Starbucks spokeswoman told GeekWire, adding that it will roll out to one undisclosed market in 2014.

To participate in the program, customers will have to be a member of its loyalty program.

The ability to use mobile technology to allow customers to skip long lines has been in the works at Starbucks for months, if not years, because of the complexities involved. (In fact, I recall an early pilot program more than six years ago that allowed you to order ahead via text message in a handful of Seattle-area stores).

“If it’s done right, it could power the company to a whole next level,” said Brotman, according to a Fortune article. “But if it’s not it could hurt the brand. When we feel that it’s great then we’re going to roll it out nationally.”

starbucksandroidOther companies have rolled out mobile ordering apps much faster. For instance, Pizza Hut and KFC are using apps for delivery worldwide, and the Yum! Brands company is now working on launching a mobile ordering app for Taco Bell that will launch this year. Obviously, customers have become acquainted with ordering all sorts of products via their phone from cabs to just about anything on Amazon.

But having a taco sit out for an additional minute while the customer gets delayed in traffic doesn’t substantially change the experience, unlike having a cup of coffee sit on counter cooling down to lukewarm. That can make a coffee drinker sour fast.

Brotman told Re/Code’s Jason del Rey that the company realizes this, and therefore, is conducting tests to determine how long it takes for different brews to cool. “We’re trying to get things down to a science,” he said.

Experiments are currently being conducted at its Seattle headquarters, and teams across the company — from operations to IT — are collaborating on the design and implementation. “It’s the most cross-functional team I’ve ever worked on and the most important project I’ve ever worked on,” Brotman told Re/Code.

The volume of orders is something that the company is also probably trying to anticipate. In March, Brotman told Starbucks shareholders that more than 14 percent of all Starbucks transactions in U.S. stores are now made with a mobile device and that there were five million mobile payments made in stores during one week alone.

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  • Robert Hammond

    Hmm…Starbucks could use something like Google Maps or Glympse to figure out when I would show-up in the store.

  • McCoffee

    Isn’t the point of espresso that you drink it quickly, in just two or three sips, within a minute or two of the shot being pulled? I guess maybe when you add 28oz of milk and syrup you’ve changed things enough that a few minutes waiting doesn’t make it any worse.

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