Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay really is a game changer

Starbucks launched Mobile Order & Pay nationwide last week, and there are already reports of the app and program being a game changer for the coffee chain. And after using it, it's pretty easy to see why.

I'm already a big fan of the Starbucks mobile app. I keep it fully loaded and handy in the Apple Passbook of my iPhone 5S. I'm not much of an early adopter, as you can see by my phone model, but in this I case, I certainly qualify.

The first day that Mobile Order & Pay rolled out nationally, I settled into the Starbucks in Michigan City, Indiana, to write a story about Starbucks Mobile Order & Pay. I didn't initially see the feature on my app, so I went to the counter, waited in line, and placed my order, per usual.

When I asked about the feature, the store manager showed me how to find it on the app (top right under "beta," if you're looking). No one had used it, yet.

It wasn't long before I was hungry. I simply opened the app, accessed the feature, and menu choices appeared. I tapped to order and tapped to pay, right there from my table inside the store. It was that simple.

I heard a shout of "We got one!" and then laughter. The store manager, who knows me by now, ran right over with my food item. I never got the chance to navigate the pickup. Table service isn't supposed to be a mobile feature, but there are perks to being a regular in a small town.

There is a surprising lack of Starbucks in the area of northwest Indiana where we have a home. The single location there—serving some 40 mile circumference—is buckling under the pressure. There are some days where the line inside stretches to the door and the cars are backed up onto the street waiting for the drive-thru.

We've pulled up at times and left, without coffee. A very sad occurrence, at least for me.

In the case of our Michigan City, Indiana, Starbucks, there are no real options or alternatives for coffee. So customers are just out of luck, nursing a caffeine headache.

In addition to improved customer satisfaction, Starbucks has a winner in some other key ways. Often many merchants face their biggest hurdles in new program implementations from within. The feature either creates an extra level of work for the associate, or encounters the very basic human reaction of resisting change. So many good ideas never get a fighting chance and die right there on the front lines, at the register.

Yet my store's manager was looking forward to folks using the feature and outlined all the ways it would help her store. Not only would customers be happier without the lines, but the staff could better manage at peak times. She also hoped it would help with a sticky customer perception issue: There are a number of associates working on drinks while seemingly few to man the registers. It's a necessary balance, she said, that keeps drinks flowing to both the in-store clientele and those at the drive-thru. More registers open would simply mean bigger lines in the drink area, which creates a crowd blocking the restrooms.

But if customers have already placed their orders, that balance will either not be felt, or make more sense.

Some of these issues are specific to my small market, but there are even greater benefits for customers and stores in busier markets. Anyone in New York City, Chicago or Washington, D.C. who has ever been rushing to work, and stopped in her tracks by a line at what looks like the world's busiest Starbucks (I'm talking to you 444 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago), will quickly adopt Mobile Order & Pay, and be grateful.

I know I am. -Laura

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