I’ve read somewhere that Starbucks updates each store every five years, and does a more complete facelift for each store every ten years. I used to think this was for cosmetic reasons. However, with the introduction of pre-ordering drinks from the mobile app, I’ve changed my mind – redesigning stores is necessary for this sea change in how we buy coffee.
If you’re not familiar with ordering Starbucks on your mobile app, it’s pretty simple. You can choose any Starbucks drink or food item, customize however you’d like, choose your local store, pay on your phone, and then go to the store. Your drink is waiting for you on the bar when you arrive!
It’s nice because it’s fast, there’s no waiting for a barista to prepare your drink, and if you happen to like a half-caf, skim, no whip, three pump white chocolate mocha with a caramel drizzle, well then you skirt the shame of needing to order that out loud in front of other humans.
The latest estimate I found was that 7% of orders were mobile orders last September, but in some locations up to 20% are mobile at peak time. I’d bet you a Frappuccino that number has gone up.
This has created two interrelated problems at Starbucks stores. One, the stores are currently staffed and managed to handle multiple people walking in and ordering drinks. With increasingly more people using mobile ordering, I’ve noticed several times when there are one or more cashiers waiting for customers to arrive, while the barista(s) are behind on drink orders, since so many are coming in through the mobile app.
The other problem is one of store layout. This is why Starbucks’ policy of updating stores every few years will be crucial to this working out. The thing about walking into a Starbucks is that most of them are designed with a lot of thought put into the experience of walking in. It’s clear where to go to order, it’s clear what direction the line goes in, it’s easy to browse merchandise while you’re waiting (which is good for Starbucks, I’m sure), and then it’s clear where to go to wait for your drink.
Now, however, many customers are coming into stores to pick up drinks they’ve already ordered. It’s not always obvious how to wend one’s way through the tables to get to the bar. It’s not always obvious who to talk to for your drink. There’s not always enough space at the bar for the proper number of people to wait for their drinks. There’s not always enough counter space to store the drinks that are ready. And while you’re waiting for your drink, you can’t easily browse merchandise.
The square footage of stores is probably not the problem here, but the layout is. It’ll be fun to see what the newest Starbucks stores look like that are designed to optimize for mobile ordering rather than an exclusive in-store experience.