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Op/Ed

Starbucks explores tech to improve customer, barista experiences

With the overload of online ordering since the pandemic, Starbucks has found itself overwhelmed, and is looking to make changes.

starbucks coffee with computer

Over the past couple of years, there’s been a surge in digital orders being placed within the coffee chain industry, and Starbucks is no exception. 

This influx of orders has understandably overwhelmed baristas across the US. 

To add an extra element of balance during these busy times, Starbucks, with the help of Microsoft, has stated that it’s exploring the possibility of developing technology in an effort to help overcome this issue. This new technology is expected to help prevent cafes from becoming over-exasperated by too many orders, as it seeks to strengthen its business and improve working conditions for employees across every location. 

Digital orders are now estimated to make up a quarter of all orders made in the food and beverage industry, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has helped Starbucks gain market share but has also led to what is being called “barista burnout”, even straining the physical capacity that can be held at older locations. 

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The company is delving into “load balancing” technology that can “send orders to stores that have the capacity to actually fulfill them, instead of to locations that are already being slammed by drive-thru customers,” Chief Technology Officer Deb Hall Lefevre said in an interview with Reuters leading up to Investor Day on Tuesday. 

This technology may be able to help “distribute the demand more evenly across multiple stores especially during peak hours,” she said, adding that the company is focused on automating tasks and streamlining jobs so workers can keep customer service as their top priority.

An excerpt on Starbucks’ website talks about the new technology. When talking about making a specific drink with it, they note that one took only 36 seconds and 13 steps. This means the same, delicious beverage can be delivered faster to a customer while also providing a more pleasurable experience for the barista.

COVID has undoubtedly changed customer behavior, trailing to a load of mobile, delivery, and drive-thru orders, as well as an increase in purchases of beverages like cold coffee drinks and teas.

Burnt out and overwhelmed baristas have been meeting, with employees at 236 stores voting to potentially join a union over the past year, out of Starbucks’ nearly 9,000 US locations that are corporately owned.

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Although, 52 stores voted as not in favor of unionizing, according to reported data from the National Labor Relations Board.

Macie LaCau is a passionate writer, herbal educator, and dog enthusiast. She spends most of her time overthinking and watering her tiny tomatoes.

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