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OM in the News: Starbucks Process Improvement with Apps

August 30, 2012

Businessweek (Aug.23-30, 2012) provides a great example of business process improvement (Chapter 7) through Starbucks’ mobile payment plan program. Even before its recent $25 million investment in startup company Square, Starbucks had been processing a million mobile-phone transactions per week. “What mobile payments allows is an unprecedented relationship between us and our customer,” says Starbucks’ chief digital officer.

Starbucks released its first mobile app in 2009; it helped customers find stores, learn about coffee, and get nutrition information. In 2011, the chain released a more powerful Starbucks Card Mobile App, which also lets consumers pay at the register by waving a bar code on a phone’s screen in front of a scanner. Customers can load Starbucks’ digital prepaid card with an existing credit card.

Starting this fall, coffee lovers will be able to use smartphones to pay via an account linked directly to their credit cards. The mobile payment options also promise a profit boost for Starbucks. By letting its customers make purchases with their smartphones, Starbucks pays fewer fees—which sometimes top 2%—on credit-card transactions. Square says it can now process Starbucks payments at a lower rate than other payment networks.

From an OM perspective, the apps can also help sales by making store lines move 10 -20% faster during peak hours. Each 1% increase in a store’s capacity during rush hour translates into a revenue boost of up to 1%. “Current payment solutions don’t meet the expectations of customers or merchants,” says Wal-Mart’s VP. Since selling through a mobile app can cut transaction fees in half, the cost savings can make a big difference in retail, where operating margins are in the single digits (about 6% for Wal-Mart). The bottom line: Starbucks has created a successful mobile payments model that other retailers are following in an effort to reduce transaction fees.

Discussion questions:

1. What other mobile phone apps can increase OM efficiency?

2. How else has Starbucks increased productivity, as discussed in OM in Action boxes in the text?

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Andreas Wieland’s supply chain management blog for academics and managers

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