Starbucks (SBUX -0.08%) Mobile Order & Pay lets customers place and pay for their coffee, food, and snacks without having to wait in line.
It's a remarkably simple system which should lower congestion in stores, allow more employee hours to go into production, and generally create a better customer experience. The service, which was tested in parts of the country before being rolled out nationwide is now available on iPhone and Android at all company-owned locations in the United Sates.
People should embrace the new technology simply because it's easy to use and it removes the hassle of waiting for someone take your order, then standing around as it is made.
How mobile ordering works
Any technology has a bit of a learning curve, but Starbucks has made Mobile Order & Pay almost pain free. If you already use the company's app, using it to order and pay will be almost entirely intuitive.
The first step on the ordering process is to press the "order" tab in the upper-right corner on the app. It's still marked "beta," in tiny letters above. Once you have hit that button you are taken to a screen where it shows nearby stores. If you're not at a store already, you can pick one to drive to. Or, if like I was when I tested the service, you are sitting in the parking lot of a Starbucks, you can pick the store you are already at.
Once you select a location you're brought to a menu which reflects what the actual store has in stock. Baristas actually can take items off the list if they sell out during the day so the menu is accurate nearly up-to-the minute.
From there a simple menu broken up by category lets you pick your beverages and food. Once you select an item you can go into it and customize your choices. I, for example, wanted a decaf, soy, drink, so I had to change the default to reflect that.
The customization menu also lets people add special touches not on the regular menu. For example, you could add a pump of a different flavoring or substitute the caramel drizzle for another choice.
Once my order was finalized, I was shown the price and given a chance to confirm it. That screen, as you can see on the right also told me when I would be able to pick it up at the counter and how far away I was from the store. After confirming the order, I was brought to a screen where I could view the receipt and tip the baristas -- exactly what happens after paying at the counter via the app in the traditional fashion.
It actually took a little less time than the completion screen said it would and the counter person let me know by name (which must have been provided by the app). Everything was correct and delivered quickly with no problems. I repeated the experience the next day in the same store with the same result during a very crowded, line-out-the-door morning rush. (The app also stores recent orders, so if you get the same thing regularly, you won't have to customize it each time).
The fact that everything went off without a hitch was somewhat remarkable since the person who handed me my drink and cookie noted I was the first person to place an order using the service (which was somewhat surprising because it was midday on launch day).
This is a win for Starbucks
To make Mobile Order & Pay a success all the company needs to do is let people know that it exists. That should happen naturally as both times I used it other customers inquired as to what I was doing and the baristas showed marked enthusiasm for my using it.
This technology should make lines shorter and allow people to spend no time in line and less, if not no, time waiting for their drinks. It also makes it easy to order heavily customized beverages with much less opportunity for human error to lead to it being made wrong.
Mobile Order & Pay improves the customer experience and it allows stores to serve more customers. Shorter lines could lead to more walk-in business and early trials of the technology suggest it could lead to bigger checks.
"It's been going better than we thought in terms of the results, both from the customer standpoint and and partner execution," Starbucks digital chief Adam Brotman told Geekwire. "Customers are loving it and understanding it, partners are executing well in terms of making orders for customers, so the actual process of rolling out has gone better than we thought."
This is an idea that's so simple and useful it's hard to see how it won't be a success for the chain and its customers.