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Starbucks Weighs In On “Download Mobile App Vs. Get Customers In-Store” Debate. And The App Won

Written by Evan Schuman
April 15th, 2013

A classic retail mobile question is whether it’s better to get shoppers in the store or to get them to download the retail mobile app. Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), which has one of the most successful mobile payment programs in retail and also happens to not have the typical online-offline internal corporate conflicts, has come down squarely on the “’tis better to get the app downloaded” side.

For years, the coffee chain has pushed a promotion called Pick Of The Week, where it gave free copies of various pieces of digital media (songs, apps, games, etc.) to shoppers who went in-store and grabbed a card with a code on it. As of April 9, Starbucks has changed the program, no longer requiring the card to get the digital goodies. All it requires is downloading the app.

Starbucks’ site still touts the old rules. “Just to let you know—you can only download these in our stores, through the Wi-Fi Landing Page, or directly from the iTunes store if you have picked up a Pick Of The Week card from a Starbucks store,” the site says. The key point is that all of those methods required customers to get into a Starbucks to get the free content. The program eliminates that requirement, allowing customers to download the app and then get the content from anywhere.

The idea is that once shoppers download the app, that’s going to scream the Starbucks logo and various promotional messages constantly. In turn, that will likely get those customers into Starbucks stores a lot more often than if they were forced to go in to download a game or a song. And given that Starbucks is also pushing its products in the grocery aisle, those promotions and extra branding could help in many ways, even when customers choose to never set foot in a traditional Starbucks store.

“The intent is really to build a relationship. You don’t need to go into our stores,” said Linda Mills, a Starbucks senior manager for global brand public relations. “This is about educating about our product offerings and just engaging with our customers.”

Some initial reports suggested the chain was getting rid of the iTunes cards, but Mills stressed that the cards are not going away. “We are absolutely keeping the cards in place in our stores,” she said. “The Pick Of The Week cards are remaining.”

Unlike other chains where e-commerce sales can—politically—sometimes be seen as a challenge or rival to in-store operations, Starbucks has avoided those turf battles. That’s because Starbucks e-commerce sales represent relatively trivial amounts of revenue (there’s simply not that much to buy on its site, by design), meaning that site’s primary purpose is to drive sales at the stores and in grocery. Hence, there’s no reason for stores to resist online’s—or mobile’s—efforts.


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One Comment | Read Starbucks Weighs In On “Download Mobile App Vs. Get Customers In-Store” Debate. And The App Won

  1. Andy Miller Says:

    Except they have alienated an entire mobile nation – the Blackberry users. Starbucks continues on with the “we are evaluating things” responses. For a company I respect…very interesting…

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