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How Starbucks Plans To Deliver Coffee To Your Door

In an early pilot, Starbucks plans to deliver coffee (and some food) to employees at the Empire State Building.

The coffee run is inextricable from corporate culture. An excuse to get outside, fill up on caffeine, and gossip about coworkers. But in the second half of this year, Starbucks plans to launch a pair of delivery services that will bring the coffee (and some food) right to you.

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The first service is aimed at low-rise urban environments and will work with the existing delivery service Postmates. You’ll be able to open the existing Starbucks mobile pay app, and place an order for a coffee that a courier then delivers. It’ll launch first in Seattle.

The second service, dubbed “Green Apron,” will be installed into highrises–think Manhattan. Each Green Apron shop will serve a single building, and at least at launch, it will only accept orders via the web (rather than the mobile app). The operation will sometimes work out of an existing Starbucks store, and it will sometimes take over an unmarked space in the building, operating more like a catering company without a storefront. A Starbucks barista, complete with the green apron, delivers the coffee.

To kick off the service, Starbucks chose an icon of corporate architecture: Green Apron will launch in the Empire State Building later this year.

Jason Alden/Bloomberg/Getty Images

For Starbucks, which needs to fill every last nook and cranny of every last market to keep growing, delivery is yet another convenience to offer–a way to flip a craving into a sale.

But is it a mistake? After all, Starbucks has invested considerably in making its in-store experience–filled with free Wi-Fi and reclaimed lumber finishes–an escape from the daily office grind. Could delivery cannibalize the experience that Starbucks has worked so hard to build?

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“We have a lot of experience in adding [sales] channels, like when we rolled out drive thru a few years ago,” explains Adam Brotman, chief digital officer for Starbucks. “We’ve learned over the years, by giving customers more options, that ends up netting out positive for the business.”

Brotman’s team is sweating the small stuff to make Green Apron delivery something more than pizza delivery for coffee. They’re currently testing Green Apron on their own employees inside their Seattle headquarters to determine what a barista showing up at your workplace should look and feel like–from the packaging they carry to the presentation itself.

“One of the things we’re going to be interested in [developing] is the dynamic of what happens when Green Apron baristas show up to your office, literally Starbucks coming to you–not just figuratively,” Brotman says. “There’s an emotional response, because they’re preparing it for you, and that’s something that’s going to be really unique.” (It’s hard to imagine they will kick off a conversation about race, for instance.)

Beyond the experiential details, Starbucks is still nailing down all sorts of logistics as to how both delivery models will work. How long will it take? We more or less got a “no comment.” What kind of food will be available? Anything that can’t deliver well simply won’t be on the menu. What will the pricing be like? Brotman thinks Starbucks will have flat delivery charge, not a minimum order. What will the options be for corporate bulk orders? Will suburban markets get in on delivery, too? Again, we more or less got a “no comment.”

“Remember, these are pilots,” Brotman says. “There’s going to be the right mix of opportunities for us to learn what works well.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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