Starbucks Uses AI as a Marketing Tool

January 09, 2017

Have you ever had a place—a coffee shop, a restaurant, or something similar—that you go to just to have, “the usual” - that one particular menu item that's ordered over and over again? There's a certain comfort in having a “usual”; in some cases the shop's staff will start making it when you walk in the room. That's personalized service, and Starbucks has recently joined the ranks of those going for improved customer experience by using a new virtual assistant. It's hoped this will prove a great new marketing tool, focusing on place and drawing in more users to taste this slice of the future along with the coffee.

It's being implemented as part of the Starbucks app, dubbed “My Starbucks Barista.” Essentially, it incorporates voice recognition technology and allows a user to talk to his or her phone, generating key data about a nearly-ideal espresso beverage, customized within an inch of its life.  Each voice command generated a series of text messaging prompts which eventually resulted in the beverage's design.

Reports note that the new feature will be made available first on the iOS app, and for some regions only. Expansions will follow throughout 2017 and beyond, including a move onto Android devices. This isn't the first time something like this has been tried; both Domino's Pizza and Taco Bell have already brought out similar systems, and there are reports of Capital One and FedEx both trying as well.

Even with all the companies using this technology or planning to put it in play, Starbucks will likely have an uphill battle ahead. While machine language has come a long way, customers may need to limit the language used in the ordering process so that the devices can understand what's being said. That might make for an unnecessarily straitened environment and limit the marketing value of such an experience.

On the other hand, if Starbucks can make this experience work out, there could be a real win afoot. Starbucks has already made great headway with its mobile payments and mobile ordering functions, and Starbucks has even previously put AI to use as part of its rewards opportunities. If Starbucks can further automate its operations and bring more AI into the picture, lightning may well strike twice, a development that will be welcome for the company.

Whether or not the system actually works as designed, it's a great marketing move for Starbucks. Encouraging more technology use makes Starbucks look more forward-facing, and catches the attention of the young and technologically-savvy. The more attention Starbucks can catch, the more likely it is to sell coffee, and in the end, that's just what marketing should do.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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