On March 21, Starbucks launched a brand-new retail channel in China called “Starbucks Curbside” through its collaboration with Alibaba-backed web navigation company AutoNavi, providing orders to customers on the go. It is currently available in 150 stores in Beijing and Shanghai, and will be expanded to over 1,000 stores in the country over the next year.
The coffee chain’s curbside service leverages real-time route planning and positional tracking technology to deliver the convenience of a drive-thru with minute precision. Upon placing an order online or via the Starbucks app, the digital platform generates a collection site and time frame based upon a customers’ journey, enabling staff to prepare beverages ahead of arrival.
This service for customers travelling in cars is an extension of the coffee giant’s “third place” concept to consumption “on the go”, in addition to in-store and at-home options.
Starbucks’ partners have noticed that many of its customers have requested assistance in delivering their coffee to their car after ordering, especially when they are unable to find parking. As a response, in early 2021, Starbucks partnered with AutoNavi to explore a new retail channel that addresses this concern. The two companies worked together to refine, test, and adjust the process to ensure that the overall experience is seamless for customers.
Starbucks China’s Vice President of Digital Ventures, Judy Zhang, stated that the Starbucks Curbside service is made possible due to the company’s high-density store network, operational advantages, and AutoNavi’s core capabilities in minute-level route planning and real-time traffic conditions. Zhang also noted that Starbucks Curbside is a significant innovation compared to traditional drive-thru services.
“AutoNavi has become a new platform to provide a variety of services.” Daniel Zhang, Chairman and CEO of Alibaba, said at the Q3 performance meeting in fiscal year 2023, “AutoNavi successfully shifted from being a map tool to becoming a map-based service platform, which was well-received by users.”
Before the launch of Starbucks Curbside, Starbucks China relied mainly on in-store consumption to attract customers, with its cozy stores being popular for work or socializing. However, with the emergence of local coffee chains like Luckin Coffee, more consumers have turned to ordering coffee on food delivery platforms, attracted by their low-cost model that eliminates the need for physical stores. The launch of Starbucks Curbside shows the company’s efforts to cope with fierce competition in China and adapt to the fast-paced lives of consumers.