Imagine ordering the following drink at Starbucks and not having to repeat yourself twice: “Double upside down macchiato half decaf with room and a splash of cream in a grande cup.”
When Starbucks (SBUX) previewed voice ordering capabilities late last year at the company’s investor day presentation, that long-winded order elicited laughs from an audience of investors, Wall Street analysts, and reporters. But the vocal ordering process appeared seamless in the video presentation—and Starbucks promises that orders will be booked accurately.
The coffee giant isn’t joking around: It thinks that voice ordering is the future for digital-savvy customers. On Monday, Starbucks announced that it had officially launched voice ordering capabilities within the company’s mobile iOS app and Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa. The features build on the success Starbucks has had in getting more customers to place orders on their phone—mobile order and pay represented 7% of transactions at U.S. company operated stores in the latest quarter, up sharply from 3% in the prior year.
“One of our core tenets is to really elevate the customer experience. Digital is just one of those experience,” said Gerri Martin-Flickinger, global chief technology officer, during the company’s investor day in December. “We aspire to have a very seamless digital experience where it is still customer-first, experience-first, where you don’t have to think about it.”
Voice ordering within the mobile app will allow customers to order and pay for food and drinks at a Starbucks store simply by using their voice. The messaging interface would allow a user to speak or text just as if they were speaking to a human barista at the restaurant. They can also modify their drinks to match their preferences (like asking for a larger cup).
Starbucks says the beta test is available to 1,000 customers nationwide, with plans for a broader roll out throughout the summer. An Android version will be added later in 2017.
The company has been an early advocate of adding digital experiences to the restaurant, including a popular mobile app, payments that can be made via the phone and more recently, the mobile order and pay feature. That latter feature has led to some logistical challenges, as Starbucks warned last week that sales were somewhat hurt by the popularity of the program. In stores where mobile order and pay orders are popular, some walk-in visitors end up leaving without making a purchase because they’ve seen a big crowd waiting for orders they already placed on their phones. Executives are promising they will fix that issue soon.
Still, restaurants broadly know that to stay competitive, they must embrace technology to make ordering easier. Starbucks has said the contribution from the company’s so-called “digital flywheel” will double in revenue across the next five years.