I recently realized that every time I walked into a Starbucks or Dunkin’ there were fewer and fewer people waiting in line at the counter. Frequently there would be customers bypassing the line to the mobile order pickup station, grabbing their items and leaving — all before I placed my order at the counter. The popularity of these mobile ordering apps is growing but, as a creature of habit, I am always hesitant to change my ways. After weeks of being electronically cut in line, I decided to try the mobile apps for myself and see what all the excitement is about.
I downloaded and explored the Starbucks app the night before placing my first mobile order. Since everyone else is clearly experienced at using the app, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by fumbling around in the restaurant like a novice.
When it was time the following morning to place the order, I was surprised to learn that money has to be loaded onto the app in pre-set increments; I had assumed I’d be able to attach a debit card and have each transaction draw directly from the card. As I sat in the parking lot of the Starbucks, I loaded $15 onto the app and was off and running.
I searched through the app to decide what I wanted to order. The Double-Smoked Bacon and Cheddar Sandwich was flagged as “sold out at this store,” so I ordered a conventional breakfast of a Venti Cold Brew and a Sausage, Cheddar & Egg Sandwich.
The app was easy to navigate with simple options of changing the size of the drink, adding flavors and even letting me know how many rewards points I would earn by purchasing the product. I placed the order at 8:21am and the app let me know that the prep time would be 8-11 minutes. I immediately went into the restaurant to gauge the accuracy of the prep time estimate and, to my surprise, my Cold Brew Coffee came out by 8:24am, just three minutes after placing the order in my car. The Sausage, Cheddar & Egg sandwich came out separately but just one minute after that, at 8:25am. With the app working so well and reducing wait times, it’s easy to see why the mobile pick-ups seemed to outnumber in-store orders among the Starbucks customers I saw during my visit.
Following my smooth experience with the Starbucks mobile ordering app the day before, I was curious to test the Dunkin’ app. For consistency, I again decided to place the order from the parking lot outside of the restaurant at almost exactly the same time as the day before. Similar to the Starbucks app, the Dunkin’ app required money to be loaded before ordering. So, I chose $15, selected the location I was at on Dunkin’s geolocator and began browsing the food and drink options. The app itself was simple to navigate and had a clean look to it. Similar to Starbucks, the app took less than a minute to select the items and place the order, which is key during the morning rush.
I got a breakfast similar to the one I got the day prior at Starbucks. I easily navigated to the Iced Drinks section of the app and placed an order for a medium Cold Brew. Because Dunkin’ had been advertising their Go2s LTO (which is two of the same items for either $2, $3 or $4), I began looking for the $2 Go2s offering, which is two Egg and Cheese Wake Up Wraps. Surprisingly, I could not locate this LTO on the app under either the Featured Items section or the Sandwiches & Wraps section. The Egg and Cheese Wake Up Wrap was in the Sandwiches & Wraps section so I figured maybe once I add two of them to my order, the promotion would automatically calculate; however, the promotion did not go through and I ended up paying $3.58 for the two Wake Up Wraps.
The Dunkin’ app did not have a prep time estimator like the Starbucks app. After placing the order on the app. I went into the restaurant immediately to see how quickly the order came out, when I noticed how the lines at Dunkin’ and Starbucks differed. The Starbucks app is clearly more utilized by customers, which is easy to see just based off the similar counts of people waiting in the traditional line at Dunkin’ versus the number of people waiting around the order pickup shelves in Starbucks.
The Cold Brew came out onto the pickup shelf in about four minutes, which was comparable to Starbucks’ coffee wait time; however, the two Egg and Cheese Wake Up Wraps took another four minutes to be placed onto the shelf. The wait time was not egregious but the eight-minute total wait at Dunkin’ was noticeably longer than the four at Starbucks. The food and drink came out fresh and the quality was no different than if I had waited in line and ordered in the store.
Although my sample was small with one order placed at each of the two locations within a mile of each other, I still came to a clear conclusion: Starbucks is a well-oiled machine and wins decisively but narrowly, when it comes to the mobile ordering platform.
As for changing my habits, I plan to continue to use the apps going forward, most likely for only the scan-and-pay option because mobile ordering isn’t practical before my long daily commute. The rewards points earned by using the apps are now my main incentives to continue using the apps instead of paying with cash or debit card.