Walking into Starbucks and seeing a short line was once a small triumph – a lucky turn of events that paved the way to a well-caffeinated day.
However, with the rise of mobile ordering, the lack of a crowd no longer means you won’t end up waiting.
Starbucks has recently struggled with mobile ordering at high-traffic locations, with the mix of mobile and walk-in orders causing bottlenecks during busy hours.
To see how these problems were playing out in reality, I visited a busy Starbucks location every day for a week during rush hour.
One of the most frustrating discoveries was that it was impossible to predict how long I would end up waiting for my beverage based on the line I saw after walking into the store.
- Kate Taylor
One of my longest waits, which took 10 minutes, 35 seconds, occurred when there was no line at the front of the store; another day, I received my drink in 4 minutes, 15 seconds despite a crowd of customers waiting to order.
I’m not alone in my struggles. On Twitter, many users have complained about similar issues.
People who walked in to Starbucks after me and waited in line got their drinks and I’m still waiting. Why do I mobile order? ????
— alexisemilychin (@alexisemilychin) March 9, 2017
When there’s no line at Starbucks, but they make 20 mobile orders before yours pic.twitter.com/0JG0sJjpUZ
— Teagan Gore ☀️ (@TeaganGore_) March 2, 2017
No @Starbucks, it’s okay. I’ll wait while everyone in line gets there coffee before I get the one I mobile ordered 20 minutes ago ????
— Jessica King (@Jking424) March 5, 2017
At Starbucks, 15 people waiting on mobile orders, 2 in regular line. Wait times are the same, only perceptions are being shifted.
— Andrew Teman (@andrewteman) March 10, 2017
Obviously, longer wait times are a problem for Starbucks no matter how you spin them. However, waiting longer for mobile orders – especially when there is no line of walk-in customers – can be even more infuriating for customers as it feels “unfair.”
Mobile orders have long been a customer cheat to skip the line.
This douchebag legit raced to get in front of me in Starbucks line. I went directly to my mobile order that was waiting. GIRL BYE
— gaynycjew (@gaynycjew) March 9, 2017
When using the app no longer means a speedier Starbucks experience, it offers customers less incentive to download – especially if mobile users see with their own eyes that they could have gotten their beverages faster by simply walking into the store.
Starbucks is trying to improve its mobile ordering system by adding more baristas during busy hours, developing new tech, and revamping store design. As the coffee chain tests solutions, it needs to realize success isn’t just speeding up mobile orders. It also requires customers believing their wait times aren’t “unfairly” long.