This week Starbucks announced big expansion plans for Japan, which include 300 new stores and a delivery program through Uber Eats (hat tip to Nation’s Restaurant News).
Over the next three years, Starbucks will open 100 new stores per year in Japan, according to a press statement. That’ll bring the total store count in Japan to 1,700.
The expansion also includes a pilot of the Starbucks Delivers program, in partnership with Uber Eats, at three stores in Tokyo: two in Shinjuku and one in Roppongi. Starbucks says it plans to scale the Delivers program over the next two years.
The other collaboration (separate from the Delivery program) the coffee giant announced is with LINE, a leading social media platform in Japan with 78 million users. Starbucks will use LINE to help introduce its mobile payment plan across the country. The pilot is set to launch in early 2019.
Expanding its mobile-payments platform into as many markets as possible seems like a given for Starbucks, whose ambitious plans for Asia have been in play a while now.
More intriguing will be how the delivery pilot performs. Here in the U.S., Starbucks started testing delivery in 2015 with Postmates (and also charging a whopping $5.99 delivery fee). Earlier this year, it also kicked off a Starbucks Delivers program in Miami, Florida, also with Uber Eats.
But coffee and delivery aren’t necessarily great bedfellows, and not just because driving beverages around is inherently more challenging than, say, shuttling pizza. Delivery via Postmates — which is pretty limited still — typically takes anywhere between 20 and 35 minutes. That’s a long time to wait for your morning jolt. Even if you’re adding the limited food items available, the cost won’t reach levels high enough to justify delivery fees.
Starbucks is, I imagine, keenly aware of all these issues. Likely the Uber Eats partnership is part of a wider move to solve some of the aforementioned puzzles and make coffee beverages more delivery friendly. That’s a tall order (get it?), but Starbucks has the resources to put some serious muscle into the game if it wants to make delivery a priority.