Starbucks Shares Lessons of Going Mobile

An Android app and the ability to order a drink from a mobile phone are coming soon, an executive from Starbucks said as he shared lessons and tips from his company's experience offering mobile applications.

By Nancy Gohring
Mon, May 16, 2011

IDG News Service — An Android app and the ability to order a drink from a mobile phone are coming soon, an executive from Starbucks (SBUX) said as he shared lessons and tips from his company's experience offering mobile applications.

Starbucks claims to have developed the very first iPhone app, which was an alert that people using the first iPhone received showing the name of the song playing in a Starbucks store when they walked in, said K.C. MacLaren, director of mobile and emerging platforms at Starbucks. He spoke at the Mobile Northwest conference on Monday in Seattle.

Since then, Starbucks has offered mobile apps to iPhone and BlackBerry users that let people manage their Starbucks cards and pay for drinks in the stores. The in-store payment service has handled millions of transactions, MacLaren said.

Apps for Android phones are "in process," he said. The platform presents challenges because it supports multiple screen resolutions and sizes, and users have various versions of the operating system, he said.

One of the most common questions he gets is: When will Starbucks let people order drinks from their phones? MacLaren said that the capability is coming in some form. "We know how to do it, the question is: Does it create the behavior in the customer we really want?" he said.

There's been a "lively debate" over offering the capability, he said. It could encourage some people to buy a drink when they'd otherwise walk away because of a long line, but it could also annoy people who are waiting in line when they see people head to the front of the line to pick up a pre-ordered drink, he said. People might order a drink from their phone but arrive to the store late and complain that their drink is cold. "We'll try something with it. Stay tuned," he said.

MacLaren shared some tips from his company's experience building mobile apps. He suggests offering information that's particularly useful to mobile users. "There's nothing wrong with telling your story but you can't just take your website and stick it on the phone. There's a different use case than on your laptop," he said.

For instance, mobile users don't simply want to see a list of stores. They want to see stores that have drive-through windows or those that are open, he said.

IPads are an entirely separate category. "IPads are not mobile. You can't scan it and pay," he said. He thinks iPads are an important segment but they should be served differently from a mobile phone, he said.

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