How Starbucks manages its mobile marketing blend

Jun 1, 2011
Tech

Just as Starbucks tries to make the customer experience consistent throughout its 6,800 U.S. company operated stores, the company has similarly uniform standards for its mobile applications. Thus it is no surprise that while Starbucks has the free myStarbucks and Starbucks Card Mobile apps for the iPhone (and select BlackBerry devices), the company is not […]

Just as Starbucks tries to make the customer experience consistent throughout its 6,800 U.S. company operated stores, the company has similarly uniform standards for its mobile applications.

Thus it is no surprise that while Starbucks has the free myStarbucks and Starbucks Card Mobile apps for the iPhone (and select BlackBerry devices), the company is not yet serving an official Android app (although one is in the works).

In this edition of Meet the Makers, Starbucks Innovation executive Chuck Davidson explains what went into developing apps that let customers pay for their Starbucks orders, the role social media has in driving application downloads, and how the company incorporates and responds to feedback submitted via the apps.

Appolicious: Culture is such an important cornerstone of the Starbucks brand. While there are so many technologies that can be incorporated into your mobile apps, how do you go about providing the right blend of services for your customers?

Chuck Davidson: We heard from our customers that they wanted a faster, more convenient way to pay, and witnessed a great response to our Starbucks Card Mobile App and our mobile payment tests in Seattle, Northern California, New York and at Starbucks in more than 1,000 U.S. Target stores. We expanded mobile payment nationwide in January 2011 so our customers can experience a new, faster way to pay with their iPhones or BlackBerry smartphones. The Starbucks Card Mobile App provides customers with a fast and easy way to make purchases and manage their Starbucks Card accounts with their mobile phone. In addition to easy payment capability, Starbucks Card Mobile App users have the ability to manage their account, reload balances directly from their smartphone with a major credit card, check My Starbucks Rewards status, or find nearby Starbucks stores.

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APPO: Starbucks has highly useful and successful apps for iOS devices and BlackBerries. Why haven’t we seen an Android app yet, and what are the primary reasons why one is not yet available in the market?

CD: Since January 19, 2011, millions of Starbucks customers have experienced the fastest way to pay at nearly 6,800 U.S. company-operated stores. We will continue to innovate and expand the platform to elevate the customer experience and bring mobile payment to more customers in the future. While we don’t have a launch date to share at this time, we can share that we are working on a version for Android.

APPO: What is the most commonly requested feature of your mobile apps that does not yet exist?

CD: Customers are consistently providing feedback on MyStarbucksIdea.com and through other Starbucks social media channels. Presently, a top request is to allow customers to transfer card balances on the app, so they can consolidate their balance to their favorite card. Since this is something we are hearing from our customers and are exploring.

APPO: While Starbucks is a globally iconic brand with thousands of locations across the land, downloads don’t drive themselves. What three marketing tactics make the most impact in terms of getting your applications onto consumer devices?

CD: We have noticed that customer awareness of our apps is viral – they tell us that they learn about the apps from their friends or through social media. As such, the connections we make with customers through our social media channels, Starbucks.com and the MyStarbucksIdea suggestion portal are very important.

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APPO: Do you consider the iPad and other tablets more in line with smartphones or PC/Mac-based web browsing? Accordingly, how do you develop features that take advantage of that particular medium?

CD: Our Starbucks Card Mobile apps currently support iPhone, iPod touch and select Blackberry smartphones. However, Starbucks Digital Network, which is available through one-click free Wi-Fi in U.S. company-operated stores was developed to work with tablets, smartphones and laptops, so we’re offering that content experience to customers on their platform of choice.

APPO: How large is the mobile team at Starbucks, and how much (if at all) do you outsource application development to third party agencies?

CD: Our mobile group is cross-functional and touches a number of different teams – the Digital Ventures team, Starbucks Card team and IT. The Starbucks Card Mobile app for BlackBerry and iPhone was developed by mFoundry. My Starbucks App was developed internally.

APPO: What other consumer brands do you think take the best advantage of mobile media?

CD: Apple is a great example.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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