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Starbucks is getting ready to let you order coffee before you get to the store

Starbucks line
Reuters/James Lawler Duggan
What will you do with all that extra time?
By Roberto A. Ferdman
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

For its next trick, Starbucks may have your order ready before you enter the store.

After reporting strong fourth-quarter earnings yesterday, CEO Howard Schultz confirmed plans to allow customers to place orders through Starbucks’s mobile app and pick them up later. “I can tell you that we understand the value that that will create for our customer base,” Schultz said in reply to a question on the company’s conference call. He added, “You can assume that over time we will lead in this area.”

Starbucks first mentioned “mobile ordering” to investors in 2012, but didn’t elaborate on its intentions.

Pre-ordering would make sense for Starbucks as the coffee giant increasingly focuses on food, which is its fastest-growing segment. ”Everything we’ve seen so far encourages us that we’re just beginning to go after what is a big, big food opportunity,” CFO Troy Alstead said yesterday. Food is more complicated to prepare than coffee and can slow down service in Starbucks stores. “We’re definitely looking to increase the speed of our lines,” spokeswoman Linda Mills told Quartz today.

Some restaurant chains, like Chipotle, already allow mobile pre-ordering. Starbucks’s big advantage in this area would be that so many customers—over 10 million—already use its mobile app to pay for their orders.

But there are plenty of complications to consider. Will the company prioritize pre-orders, or in-store orders? And if pre-ordering takes off, could that diminish impulse purchases of its pastries, packaged food, and other goods? The company wants to make buying coffee and food as easy and fast as possible, but not if it comes at the expense of sales. Which is probably why Starbucks is being so deliberate about the program’s careful development.

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