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PORTLAND, Ore. — Two minutes after ordering my tall sugar-free vanilla latte on my iPhone, a barista called my name saying it was ready.

A minute or two after that, my pipping hot panini came out of the oven, ready to eat. I didn’t have to stand in line, fight the crowds, talk to anyone or even be inside the Brewery Blocks Portland Starbucks to place the order.

That’s the beauty of the new mobile ordering service Starbucks launched today, allowing customers to place their coffee and food orders in advance and pick them up without ever having to stand in line.

The pilot program kicked off today in Portland live at 152 locations, but it is hardly an experiment.


In an interview with GeekWire, Adam Brotman, Starbucks’ Chief Digital Officer, said Starbucks is confident about the future of mobile ordering and will be aggressively rolling it out nationwide by the end of next year. The next city will go live during the first quarter of 2015, likely in tandem with an updated Android application.

He explained how mobile ordering is a core opportunity for the coffee giant to increase its efficiency. If fewer people are standing in line, that means more of the company’s employees will spend their time making drinks instead of working the register, leading to a better experience for customers.

“We believe this is going to be game changing, in terms of both the customer experience as well as driving incremental transactions and improving throughput and capacity in our stores,” he said. “We hope this will give us a throughput increase as much or more as anything we’ve done in the past.”

While shareholders will salivate at the business opportunity because it means wringing more dollars out of each store, customers will see benefits, too.

Ordering on the phone was really slick. Portland users will have to update their current apps to participate. From the homescreen, they’ll see in the top right corner, the ability to “order.” That screen brings up big visual pictures. For returning users, they’ll see their previous order, or they can customize a new drink.

When I ordered, I upgraded the regular latte with four pumps of Sugar Free Vanilla flavoring, I also specified 1% milk over whole milk. I hurriedly clicked order before realizing that I was hungry, too. A second order ensured that my tomato and mozzarella panini would be prepared at almost the same time.

Starbucks Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman shows off mobile ordering.

What I liked about it was skipping the line. I bee-lined my way to one of the last remaining seats and pulled out my laptop and immediately got to work. I didn’t have to stand in line, or look at the refrigerator case to find out what they had in stock.

Timing the drink with the arrival of the person is still a learning process.

For now, the app will alert customers to how long it will take to make a drink. If the nearest store is particularly busy, it could mean a 20-minute wait. If that’s the case, a customer might elect to search for another store that’s less busy.

Likewise, if a drink comes out too fast, and is no longer hot by the time a person arrives, Starbucks will be happy to replace it.

From the barista’s point of view, the flow is also pretty basic. A printer sits next to the register, so they’ll notice when an order is up. When an order is received, a sticker prints out, summarizing the requests and the customer’s name.

Brotman says it took an entire year to hammer out the details, with participation from every group in the company, from digital to the operational side of the business. They intend on learning from the experiences in Portland, and adding more features soon, like the ability to schedule a drink, have one delivered or timing it based on a person’s proximity to a store.

This clearly builds on the base of mobile customers that Stabucks has been building for years. Currently, there 16 percent of all Starbucks transactions in U.S. stores are now made with a mobile device, resulting in 7 million mobile transactions a week.

Other food giants like McDonald’s and Taco Bell have kicked off mobile ordering programs, but because of this base, Brotman said Starbucks has an advantage.

“We are at 16 percent of all orders on mobile payment today and that number is rapidly increasing,” he said. “We hope [mobile ordering] will be as big or bigger than anything we’ve done in the past in terms of our entire mobile commerce and loyalty platform.”

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