The Starbucks app: great, but can it be better?

As a certified coffee addict (and by certified I mean that there is documentation proving I spend more on coffee than on gas) and a dedicated road-tripper I’m surprised that I haven’t reviewed Starbucks’ mobile app yet. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t really find anything lacking in it. But no, that couldn’t be the case, right?

I’ll start with what I like about the app. It’s clearly divided into the three functional areas: Payment, Rewards and Stores. Really everything a customer needs.

  • Pay. With the current card balance on the menu item itself, this feature helps users track their balance and also makes it easy for users to load the cards. Auto-load is a feature both coffee lovers and Starbucks likes as it helps maintain the commitment to the brand.
  • Rewards. Great at telling users what rewards and offers they have available and how many more cappuccinos they have to drink until their next reward. It also lists the membership level and how many coffees needed to reach the next level or maintain the current one for next year. Like the Pay functionality, it provides all the information users need while reinforcing the commitment to Starbucks.
  • Starbucks branch filtering options

    Starbucks branch filtering options

    Store. Yes, get me to my coffee as quickly as possible and help me find the nearest branch. Actually, I found out a lot more about this feature when writing this post that I didn’t know. First, the nearest branch is always marked with a larger, green pin with all other branches in the map area marked with a dot. Second, the distance to the branch, address, and an “open until” time are listed right on the map for the selected branch. I like the efficiency of having the nearest branch with its closing time and distance listed when the “Store” option is opened. Finally, incredible filtering options for branches. Starbucks offers many more filtering options that I thought were possible (“Oven-Warmed Food” might be interesting to some but filtering by “Clover Brewed”?? Who knew?) but all that I thought were necessary, with the most important (“Drive-Thru” and “Open Now”) at the top.

A few things I’d like to see:

  • Improve directions. Yes, I can open my Google Maps with the address of the branch marked with a pin but that’s one at a time. It becomes a bit awkward when I need to go back and forth between the app and Google Maps to see which branch is close to a highway exit or is less of a detour from my journey. Google Maps is also limited to one task at a time. Say I have directions to Mt Rainier on Google Maps and need a coffee on the way (this may or may not have been a true story.) Once I open Google Maps with the Starbucks location it erases that route and marks the branch only. This might be a feature request more from Google Maps than from Starbucks, though.
  • Real-time opening times. After driving to branch after branch last Christmas, only to find that the ones marked open on the app because it was a Thursday at 8am were actually closed because it was a holiday, I was ready to bite someone’s head off. Then I found an open branch inside a Safeway and forgot all about killing anyone. The app knows the current location, time of day and day of the week. Surely there aren’t that many holidays with abnormal opening times and correlating those times with a current search would help addicts like me.
On some days, my Starbucks name is Scarlet

On some days, my Starbucks name is Scarlet

  • Notifications. The app doesn’t currently do any notifications that I’ve seen, though it has that option. I wish it would tell me when a reward is about to expire, especially when I’m in a store. It can also notify users about seasonal specials and other time-limited offers. Conversly, I like that it respects me by keeping notifications to a minimum.
  • Balance and currency. This might be a rarely used feature but since the app tracks my balance and allows me to pay with my phone, it would be nice to understand what happens when buy coffee in other Starbucks locations around the world. Last summer in Canada I wasn’t sure the exchange was handled correctly and even what it was. Maintain my home currency, sure, but let me know how much I am paying in the local currency as well.

As you can see these are minor suggestions. Mostly the app does a great job getting me to my coffee, helping me pay for it and managing my rewards. I think it outclasses many similar retail apps mostly because it just does what customers need it to do without adding on too much of what Starbucks would like them to do. It’s focused, easy to use and has all the necessary features. Well done.


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