Why Starbucks’ Order And Pay Is More Than Milk Froth

There was a time when mobile content was king. Consumers sought ringtones and java games, despite their appalling user experience. Then came smartphones and apps, and, in terms of content, everything changed. For savvy brands, mobile content has moved well beyond creating a vanity app to the primary way to engage consumers.

According to Ofcom’s most recent Communications Market Report, in the U.K. we are spending two hours online on our smartphones every day — twice as long as laptops and PCs. That’s welcome news to any brand that is taking a mobile-first approach. Yet whilst consumers spend more and more time online on mobile, that time is not booked out as a specific Internet session. Rather, it is a series of spontaneous moments in specific contextual scenarios. And understanding what those contextual elements are is fundamental to creating a successful mobile experience.

The growth in wearables and smartwatches is sharpening the need to understand the user’s context. The size of the screen and its location on a user’s wrist massively increases the importance of designing for the use case, not the hardware. The fundamental question that developers need to ask is, What is the application trying to accomplish overall and how can the watch can assist in that process?

This means designing for time.

According to Chartbeat’s Tony Haile, 55 percent of websites get less than 15 seconds of attention. Paradoxically, consumers spend more and more time online. But that time is spread over an increasing array of devices and, frequently, as a tiny capsule of attention as consumers multi-task, device in one hand, bus ticket in the other.

If time is the first principle of designing for context, then utility is the second.

For marketers, this is counter-intuitive. Traditional marketing logic immerses the consumer for as long as possible in a brand experience. Yet the best mobile experiences today — in terms of time spent — don’t come in minutes, or even seconds. They happen as milliseconds — tiny moments as the consumer glances at his screen, often whilst doing something else more mundane, filling up downtime with screen time.

The multi-tasking time-poor consumer demands a shorter, more useful mobile experience. If time is the first principle of designing for context, then utility is the second.

Starbucks has got the concept of context = time + utility absolutely nailed. It’s well documented that of all the mobile money and payments solutions for physical goods, Starbucks’ own app and mobile payments system is the most-used mobile payment method in the U.S., with 9 million average weekly transactions in August accounting for a full 20 percent of transactions made at the U.S. Starbucks-operated coffee shops.

The payment app captures contact information, providing a route 1 channel for offers and promotions. And when a brand makes it easy to access loyalty programs, redeem vouchers and transact, they are really removing all kinds of friction by wrapping the brand experience around the clock — saving the consumer time.

Starbucks recently launched its Mobile Order and Pay service, where users can order and pay for say a Mocha Frappuccino Caramel via their Starbucks app, then swing in to pick it up. It’s the hot coffee, not the consumer, that waits. Consumers appreciate that, rewarding the brand with loyalty and providing a measurable uplift in sales (trials in the U.S. and Canada have already demonstrated the popularity of the service).

The point is that when it comes to mobile, marketers need to shake off the idea of total immersion and focus on making tiny moments matter by designing apps around the context of the user — designing for time and utility.