Starbucks Launches Voice Ordering on Its Mobile App and Alexa

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Over the past year, Starbucks’ mobile ordering has seen impressive growth, with seven percent of customers now using the feature, more than double the amount last year. Using the Starbucks app easily allows customers to get their caffeine fix at the touch of a button. But for those customers who are sick of having to touch buttons, even better news: Starbucks has announced voice ordering. It’s just like ordering in person, but instead of dealing with a person, you deal with a computer! Awesome!

Voice ordering is launching in two different forms: on the Starbucks mobile app and through the Amazon Alexa platform. The former is probably the cooler of the two, being that customers can literally say their full order aloud, and the app uses what Starbucks describes as “groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence” to understand exactly what you’re saying (Maybe they should consider implementing this AI in-store to help baristas get your name right). To order via Alexa, the voice option is far more restricted. Saying, “Alexa, order my Starbucks” will reorder whatever your “usual” preset order is – and that’s it. Consider it the perfect feature for the unadventurous.

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The good news for Alexa users is that this “Starbucks Reorder Skill” is available to everyone now. Meanwhile, voice ordering in the app will initially be restricted to an iOS-only beta test of 1,000 customers (aka, soon to be the coolest girls in the middle school). The coffee chain says a larger rollout should begin this summer with an Android version not far behind.

But voice ordering could actually prove to be a double-edged sword. Late last week, Starbucks announced that though mobile ordering is up, the feature might have actually driven sales down. Apparently, baristas weren’t prepared to handle all the additional online orders, creating longer wait times for pickups. On top of that, walk-in customers may have been walking out when confronted with what looked like long lines. “A growing number of stores are challenged to keep up with volume demands,” said Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO We are now laser focused on fixing the problem. The nature of it is too much demand. Operational challenge is a problem we have solved before. I assure you we can solve it again.”

One way to solve the problem: Hire more people – which is exactly what Starbucks announced yesterday. Apparently wanting to go out with a bang, Schultz – who openly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election – promised to hire 10,000 refuges around the world in response to President Trump’s recent travel bans. In a long open letter to employees, Schultz explained his feelings about the Executive Order and what his company plans to do in response. He said the promise to hire refugees will start “here in the U.S. by making the initial focus of our hiring efforts on those individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel in the various countries where our military has asked for such support.”

Needless to say, it’s been a long, busy few days for Starbucks. And I’m not just talking about the all the people waiting for their mobile orders.

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