Starbucks to roll out new drive-thru

by Monica Watrous
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SEATTLE — Face-to-face video ordering and a mobile payment option are on tap for car-bound customers of Starbucks Coffee Co., which plans to roll out a new drive-thru experience over the next three years.

“The drive-thru is something that we had, but it wasn’t something we really focused on,” said Cliff Burrows, group president of Americas, EMEA and Teavana, during a Nov. 19 presentation at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer & Retail Conference in New York. “We have seen from best to worst, a huge opportunity to improve it. To study what the best in the industry is doing has also helped us increase the experience, enhance that experience and increase the throughput.”

More than 65% of Starbucks’ new development last year included drive-thrus, he added.

“Sure, drive-thrus are more expensive by the nature of the site,” he said. “They cost us more, but we get a significant improvement in the profitability of drive-thrus. They are about 25% higher in average revenues and they produce a good margin for us.”

Other store enhancements underscore Starbucks’ efforts to create local relevance in its many markets.

“I think you will see we have moved away very definitely from the historical cookie-cutter approach,” Mr. Burrows said. “We try and use local materials and all of that is designed to enhance the experience for the customer.”

About 3,000 stores have been renovated over the past two years, from minor repairs like a coat of paint to major updates, such as changing a store’s configuration to improve flow.

“We don’t expect to see a significant uplift by staying relevant,” Mr. Burrows said. “We do want to make sure as the portfolio ages it does not look like it is aging.”

With 512 new U.S. stores last year, the coffee chain plans to add more.

“We always get asked the question, ‘Is the U.S. near saturation?’” Mr. Burrows said. “And the answer is very simple. Not at all; we are not even close.”
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