Last week, Dunkin’ Donuts cut the ribbon on its “next-generation concept store” in Quincy, MA. The site will act as a pilot store of sorts, where Dunkin’ can test out new store concepts and branding efforts before deciding to roll the changes out to more locations. The Quincy store opened about a mile away from the original 1948 Dunkin’ Donuts location.
Besides dropping the “donuts” from the name out front, the biggest addition to the store is the dedicated drive-thru lane for mobile customers—that is, those who order ahead and pay through the Dunkin’ app.
It’s a potentially huge perk. Theoretically, at least, you could save a lot of time on the way to work by paying with your phone, bypassing half the other customers, and getting to stay in the car the whole time.
It’s also, as some have already suggested, part of a bigger strategy to become a true Starbucks competitor.
The strategy is not entirely new. In 2016, the company began featuring drinks like lattes and macchiatos in order to make espresso a bigger part of the business, attract younger customers, and compete with Starbucks. But Dunkin’ isn’t the only chain to have that idea: coffee beverage sales at McDonald’s and Burger King are reportedly taking a toll on afternoon sales at Dunkin’.
Meanwhile, the chain’s mobile program has lagged since its launch in 2016, making up only around 4 percent of the company’s total transactions. As a point of comparison, mobile now accounts for around 30 percent of Starbucks’ overall transactions.
If this increased investment in mobile is any indication, Dunkin’ is serious about catching up to Starbucks and, in the process, beating back competition from McDonald’s and Burger King.
In addition to its increased focus on mobile, the chain’s next-gen store also features a revamped design, bar-like taps pouring nitro- and cold-brew coffee, and several “healthier” snack options (i.e., bananas). The donuts, thankfully, aren’t going anywhere, even if they no longer get billing on the sign outside.
In-store, Dunkin’ on Demand will feature self-ordering kiosks, digital boards that track orders, and a dedicated mobile pickup area.The kiosks are slated for release in 2018. While the company hasn’t explicitly said so, the very idea of a store-as-concept-lab could possibly be another way to emulate Starbucks, who’s been using concept stores to test out new ideas in its home market of Seattle for some time.
Will all this be enough to put Dunkin’ in true competition with Starbucks, or will it continue to straddle that weird line between coffeeshop and fast-food chain? There will be a lot of logistical pieces to manage, and the chain can’t afford any technological glitches or shortcomings with these changes. But if Dunkin’ can get those two pieces right, continue pouring quality brews, and maybe get a robot or two, it certainly stands a fighting chance.