You really don’t have to drive me crazy. At this point, I’m close enough to just walk.
This morning was going to be the morning. I woke up earlier than usual (with a stupid leg cramp!) and decided I would leave a few minutes early and do what I’ve been wanting to do for weeks. A little out of the way, but I was going!
Almost missed the left turn and then there it was. The green Starbucks logo and the coffee shop right at the end of the shopping center. I pulled into the shopping center and counted 21 cars in the drive-thru. Not going to happen today either.
I drive past another store on the off-beaten path to work and their drive-through is notoriously packed. It’s one of the longest drive-thrus I’ve ever seen and I estimated there were 30 cars in that lane this morning. I figure if I were to visit this store, I’d have to leave my house a half-hour earlier. And be sure I had enough gas in my car.
In 2013, Starbucks announced that 60 percent of the 1,500 new locations it planned to open through 2018 would have drive-thru windows. In 2013, most of its customers experienced in-store purchases, but the company saw strong sales at the stores already offering drive-thrus. Four years ago, they planned its expansion with an eye toward cashing in on hurried drivers.
I’m lazy, so drive-thrus work for me, and I wondered why Starbucks wasn’t offering more drive-thrus. It’s not just about finding prime real estate to create a compatible store. The transformation may also make it harder for Starbucks to justify its price premium. How do you compete with a McDonald’s coffee on the dollar menu? Without the upscale in-store experience of relaxing scents, sights, and sounds to set a concept apart, will folks pay nearly twice as much for a Frappuccino than they do a for a caramel frappe at Burger King?
In 2013, stores with drive-thru access accounted for a third of its U.S. restaurants but contributed nearly 45 percent of the chain’s operating profit. In 2013, Starbucks estimated that one in every 10 people in this country got a Starbucks gift card this holiday season. I couldn’t find any information on 2016 numbers, but I can only imagine.
Starbucks has now clearly emerged as an innovator in the drive-thru, lauded for new mobile payment and ordering systems, as well as bringing its distinctive in-store experience to the drive-thru. For a company that has been praised virtually since its inception, this may come as no surprise. But did you know that the company went through years of testing to decide how many menu boards to show a customer sitting in his/her car?
The drive-thrus are currently testing that 46-inch digital screen that allows customers to interact with the “digital barista” who is serving them. This also serves as a confirmation communicator and promotes available bakery items in real time. (Remember the video a few months ago where a barista in St. Augustine, Florida communicated via American Sign Language with a deaf drive-thru customer? That video went viral, of course, and highlighted Starbucks’ commitment to hiring and training the best personnel.)
Now if they’d only add a few more drive-thrus along my driving route.