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Starbucks could steal MacDonalds "I'm loving it" as a statement of truth

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy August 12, 2015
Starbucks mobile app provides a superb customer experience that makes convenience trump quality. That's an extraordinary feat. Here's how.

Last November, Stuart Lauchlan reported on Starbucks push into the world of digital business. He said:’s clear that Starbucks canny investment in digital and mobile tech ahead of the curve positions the firm nicely for the new wave of interest in mobile commerce that’s been kick-started by Apple.

It is clear to me that this is working well and across geographies. Here's my experience and how it is modifying my behaviors. Last month I needed to buy an iPhone 6 Plus for app testing. I'll talk more about that later. As I replicated my Samsung Galaxy's array of apps I saw another update from Stuart on Starbucks and decided to test the app. I was in the UK at the time.

I was able to buy a Starbucks card, top it up and get the card working on the iPhone within a matter of minutes. All good. The bad news is that none of the UK bank debit or credit cards I have were deemed acceptable forms of payment for Apple Pay. I was however able to get one UK debit card into the system as a method of payment. Although somewhat inconvenient for testing purposes, it didn't bother me too much.

Paying for Starbucks products using the mobile app is drop dead simple. Fire up the app, click on 'Pay,' wave the phone in front of the counter bar code reader and I'm done. The app quickly updates the amount of stored credit and let's me know how far down the track I am towards reaching the next reward level. Nice. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I'm in San Diego.

I wanted to discover if the application works in the US with card values stored in another currency. It does. The same process is used in the US as the UK (and, I presume other territories where it has been rolled out.) The best part? As far as I can tell,  Starbucks is not trying to make money on the exchange rate in the same way that a bank or PayPal does. Instead, it appears to use the mid-rate available on the day of the transaction. That's a huge win for the consumer.

Not only has Starbucks made its app geographically transparent, but it also offers the customer an experience that, as far as I can tell, is unique. Most important, it is frictionless for the consumer.

As a bonus, I can link my US bank card to Apple Pay, completing a virtuous circle that allows me to top up my Starbucks credit in the local currency to an additional virtual card. In turn, I can also declare that new card as my primary card for was long as I am in the US. Again, this is a huge win.

How do these apparently small things impact behaviors?

My nearest Starbucks is less than 100 yards away. Across the street from the Starbucks location is a boutique coffee shop. There are several other coffee shops in the same block. They all brew better coffee than the industrialized Starbucks alternative. None of those stores will get my business. Why?

Convenience trumps quality, which is saying something important  about the value of the digital experience for someone who is a self declared foodie and occasional food snob. Starbucks has created a digital experience that counters my rational sense of what is a best product in favor of what is a best experience.

A few days ago, Starbucks notified me of a time limited promotion. Acceptance was a one click affair. Another win because the promotion encourages me to spend more.

Add it all up and Starbucks has achieved the near impossible. It has got me thinking about the incredibly irritating MacDonald's "I'm loving it" jingle. But I'm not relating that to the MacDonald's brand.

One thing Starbucks must consider for the near future is the provision of digital receipts that are automatically input to my expenses. Apple automatically sends me emailed receipts. That's about as good as it gets today. When Starbucks does add recipt functionality, then it will lock me in as a customer whose loyalty is assured. And it will avoid my annoyance at watching a Starbucks server attempting to change the till roll while there's a queue of people awaiting service. UPDATE: Colleagues tell me I get a receipt that's stored in the history tab. My bad for not checking. I still wan the autoupdate to expenses though. ;)

I have no way of knowing how well the roll out is going other than to note that according to the Apple AppStore, there are more than 8,100 reviews, the vast majority of which are rated as five stars. That's an extraordinary achievement for a brand that comes in for its fair share of criticism. It beats the crap out of the kinds of review my buddy Vinnie is giving the banks and telcos.

And yes, the app also works on Android.

As a final note, some years ago, I helped commission a certain cartoon that said: 'Quality isn't job one, being totally freakin' amazing is job one.' Starbucks may not know that cartoon exists, but it certainly knows what it means.


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