This startup uses robotics to make repeatable work perfect and to the point each time. Remember the time where you walk into the Starbucks and find that you’re confused by all the options, not sure what to tell the barista and heck sometimes even after getting everything perfect the Barista will add a dash of Hazelnut because “oh, you didn’t ask for it? Never mind, we can always change it”. You, of course are now overcome by your sense of privilege and don’t want to be a Karen so you just take the drink and enjoy it of course. This robot removes all that inconvenience but also removes your hesitation to appear stupid when asking for a drink. Did you know that Starbucks offers a Short Coffee? Probably not because it’s not listed on their menu. At one point they even had a Caramel Apple Slice … 25 grams of carbs and 350 or so calories. No, I’m not memorizing Starbucks menus, I was working on a project and had some data lying on hand. This automated system of creating beverages solves a lot of inconveniences and unfortunately also removes the human in the loop. You no longer have the barista to make the small talk but the question is what’s the value that conversation provided and can that be substituted in a better way?
I’m thinking that small talk is appreciated and welcomed by some people, while others would just prefer to get on with their day. Perhaps having a large-scale study about this would be a good idea but I remember a few years ago in Singapore the McDonald’s had touchscreens for orderings. They have that option everywhere now but those were the first days of the initiative and there were some things to learn from that pilot phase. Consumers would not always prefer to walk up to the kiosk and in fact some of the automated touchscreens were empty even when the human counters were crowded. Several customers actually went to the machine first and befuddled by the options then walks over to the customer service folks over at the front of the store. All this and we haven’t even spoken about the small talk yet. There will always be new consumers and that’s the nature of snack joints that are not small local establishments most of the time. There isn’t necessarily a loyal customer base. The loyal customers are mostly after the product and they’re not there for the vibe. Starbucks might have started out as a location to decompress between a home and an office but that is certainly not the value proposition for a large number of stores today.
Along with automation of these stores there will be an accompanying reduction in labor cost. Economically this modernization of the coffee store would be great. The customers that come to the store for a repeatable product they can trust over and over again. The convenience of pressing a button and getting your oh so simple ‘Grande Cappucino-2%-with and extra shot-dash of vanilla-medium froth-without-the-lid’ without having to explain to the barista who’s new on the shift or new on the job. Perhaps you’re in London and you want to have the same combination you had in Mumbai when you were there to visit your client. So, yes, there is some value proposition here from an economic sense but the tangential effects it has to the experience of getting a coffee needs to be examined. No longer are the tiny tables on the patio with a seating for one something that most are looking for in a coffee shop. Most don’t even have the time to realize that their order a coffee but they need a Starbucks beverage. The impact this will have on the human experience is not clear.