The Starbucks App Case Study in Retail Tech

Blog post author
Rui Tian
June 15, 2021

Technology is significantly changing how customers interact with retailers today. Sometimes, the experience is better because of technology, but it can make matters worse if the tech-based service is not executed correctly. For example, when it comes to customer service, most people want to talk to a human when they are on the phone—55 percent of customers, in fact. Conversely, customers will still prefer to use a chat box compared to talking to a customer service representative to save them 10 minutes.

While these statistics seem contradictory, they both focus on every customer’s same desire: saving time. Customers do not want technology that makes it harder to accomplish what they are trying to do. On the other hand, when technology works appropriately and saves time, it can be a great resource.

One company that is doing it right when it comes to servicing customers through technology is Starbucks. The Starbucks app checks off a lot of boxes for clients across the board. Here, we will take a close look at what they are doing right and how other retailers can learn from the Starbucks model.

An Overview of the Starbucks App

In 2018, the Starbucks app was the most regularly used loyalty rewards app in major restaurant chains. It was even the most used payment app during the same year. Over 30 million people have used the app to order food and beverages.

At its core, the app offers a simple way for repeat users to order their favorite coffee and food items, while also stacking up rewards, like free coffee and treats. However, it goes far beyond a simple ordering app. Below are a few of the features that customers love about the Starbucks app.


Starbucks has a rewards program that is actually very traditional. Essentially, once you order enough food, coffee, etc., you are rewarded with freebies. It is similar to the conventional “buy ten, get one free” customer loyalty program.

The difference between Starbucks' rewards and other models is that the app helps users track previous orders and automatically adds the rewards to their “Star balance.” There is no need to scan anything, punch a card, or manually perform a task. The app tracks reward progress in real-time, every time you place an order. You can also get higher rewards for things like ordering food or coffee a certain number of days in a row or playing games within the app. There are even “personalized challenges” to earn star rewards faster.

It is easy to check your Star balance, and you can see various options to earn more reward points right on the same interface.


The Starbucks app remembers your previous orders and asks if you would like to order something similar again. It also suggests additional products based on your order history. They even use personalization as a way to encourage users to get bonus stars—such as trying a new drink. The app will also suggest locations where you might like to pick up your order. As an added perk for loyal customers, the Starbucks app even gives users a free treat on their birthday.

Easy Ordering and Pick-up

The interface used to order food is very easy to use. It is simple and streamlined. Customers order via the app and then go to the Starbucks location to pick up their order, which is ready and waiting for them in a designated area of the store.

Users have the option to pay in the app as well, which means that they do not have to have much (if any) interaction with the baristas in Starbucks if they do not want to. The users even get more reward points for paying in the app and skipping the lines, in many cases.

Baristas have their own tablets that work separately from the traditional register to deal exclusively with mobile orders. For those ordering quickly on the way to work (or any other function), this fast and easy process is ideal.

The interface also allows you to send a tip to your barista directly from the app. This feature is not yet available everywhere, but it is a perk at many stores in the United States.

Loading and Buying Gift Cards

The Starbucks app also allows to load their gift cards into the app and use them for mobile purchases. They can even combine gift cards, transfer balances between gift cards, and a lot more.

You can also send quick digital gift cards to others right through the app. The interface makes it easy and enjoyable to use gift cards and give the gift of Starbucks to someone else.

Location Services

The app also includes location services for each Starbucks location. Information regarding that location, including hours and availability, is listed as well.

When you place an order, Starbucks will suggest pickup at a nearby store based on your current location. It will also provide information about which locations will allow order-ahead mobile orders and which locations do not.

Your favorite location will generally pop up each time you order, but it is easy to change locations as well.

In the event of particular store closure or unavailability of mobile ordering, the app updates this information in real-time, eliminating any potential inconveniences for customers.

Customized Ordering

Everyone likes their coffee a little bit differently, and Starbucks does a great job of allowing users to create their own unique order, even when using the app. Adding precise instructions for the barista ensures that there is virtually no room for miscommunication or human error during the ordering process.


You might be surprised to learn that you can order Starbucks from other devices as well. For example, the Starbucks app integrates with Amazon Alexa, allowing you to order with a short phrase from the comfort of your home. The same feature is built into some Ford vehicles as well.

The Starbucks app also integrates with Spotify to provide a music selection. Users can even identify the specific songs being played in a particular Starbucks retail location and add those songs to their Spotify playlist.

Creating an App that Works for Other Retail Businesses

Starbucks is doing it right when it comes to technology, and many other companies can use the same type of services as part of their own apps and websites.

Ombori offers an array of similar services that you can customize for your business, from small retailers to large-scale corporations.

  • Order pick-up. Setting up an order pick-up system similar to what Starbucks is doing is an expectation today more than ever. Companies can reduce waiting times and increase customer loyalty and satisfaction by integrating order pick-up options on their website or a mobile app.
  • Appointment booking. For companies that need appointment times, whether it is to pick up specific products or complete services, online or mobile appointment booking can be a huge benefit for clients. Customers do not have to wait in line at your location, reducing frustration and allowing you to plan staff needs with efficiency.
  • Quick and easy payment options. You can build in easy payment options directly into a mobile app or online. Using guided selling tools to upsell customers and make personalized suggestions will set your business apart when it comes to mobile and online ordering.
  • Seamless communication with staff. One of the reasons that the Starbucks app works so well is that it is connected seamlessly with the Starbucks staff at each location. Ombori’s technology can help your company make the same type of seamless integrations. Clunky or unreliable communication methods will often only increase customer frustrations, rather than make customers want to come back.
  • View menus and products. Ombori’s mobile app options connect directly with your location to provide real-time information about inventory and service times. When customers place an order, they know how long it will take to get the order ready, where it will be waiting for them, and a lot more. It cuts waiting times down significantly and dramatically increases overall customer convenience.
  • Digital signage. Proper integration can even allow you to welcome customers personally as they enter the store, whether that is through an automatic queue management system or manual check-in process. Digital signage allows you to create an experience that is the same no matter how a customer is interacting with your business.

When it comes to retail, there is no one-size-fits-all technology solution. As a result, what works great for Starbucks may not be the right fit for your company.

Ombori works with every customer to create a unique technology solution that will improve their customer experience across several platforms. Learn more about our services and how we can create the solution you need for your business by contacting us.

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