Small businesses, take heart: Even Starbucks makes mistakes

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

For those of us that just want to get a plain old tall coffee at Starbucks the experience of waiting in line while the person in front makes one of those complicated, off-the-menu, calorie-laden, ice cream-in–the-guise-of-coffee orders makes us want to turn right around and head to the corner 7-Eleven.

Starbucks sensed this frustration and in 2015 launched a new service where customers could order and pay ahead with their mobile app. That way, the order would be ready and waiting for us to swoop in and grab our drink without delay. Except it’s not working out that way.

The lines are getting longer and longer. Baristas are getting frustrated. Customers are getting frustrated. People who ordered in advance are finding that it’s not saving them any time. Complaints have been piling up on social media. Reports like this one on Geekwire began appearing earlier this year. So recently, Business Insider sent one of their reporters to visit a highly trafficked Manhattan location during the morning rush hour to see what the experience was. It was not good.

“The process was far from seamless,” wrote BI’s Kate Taylor. “Customers crowded around in the back of the store waiting for their drinks. And baristas at times called out mobile orders for customers who were not yet there to pick up their beverages. There was no discernible relationship between the numbers of people waiting in line and of people in the crowd waiting for their beverages. One of my longest waits, which took 10 minutes, 35 seconds, occurred when there was no line at the front of the store.”

How big a problem is this? According to Taylor’s report transactions at Starbucks are actually dropping (by two percent) and a big part of that is because of the problems customers are having with mobile ordering.

There are many reasons contributing to the frustration and they all seem to come down to the same two things: poor store layouts and workflow to accommodate the mobile ordering process. Counters aren’t big enough. Waiting areas are cramped. Traffic wasn’t thought out. Other retail items are getting in the way. So now Starbucks is scrambling to fix the problems. They’re working on new layouts, new processes and even considering hiring more employees and changing the responsibilities of existing ones.

See that? Even Starbucks makes mistakes. Like you and me, they sometimes don’t think things through. They didn’t properly test all the scenarios they should have. But that’s fine, because unlike you and me they’ve got lots of money, resources and smart people to fix this problem over the next few months and rest assured – they will. “Over the last five or six years we’ve had to continuously solve problems of the increased scaling of transactions in our store,” Kevin Johnson, the company’s chief operating officer, told Geekwire. “This is no different. We are focused on a set of solutions.”

Planning ahead is important for corporate giants – and could be life or death for small business owners like me.


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