Starbucks customers in China can now order just by speaking. This week, the coffee retailer launched voice ordering and delivery capability through Alibaba’s smart speaker, Tmall Genie.
According to an announcement from Starbucks, customers can now place an order through the speaker and have it delivered within a 30-minute timeframe via Alibaba’s food delivery platform, Ele.me. Users can track their order in real time and earn Starbucks rewards points. In the future, Starbucks Rewards members will also get more personalized recommendations — based on past orders, seasonal items, and other data — when using voice order.
To top it all off, there’s a Starbucks-themed Tmall Genie (pictured above) available through the Starbucks virtual store in China. Because who wouldn’t want to talk to an adorable DJing bear to order their coffee?
The move comes about a year after Starbucks and Alibaba first announced their partnership and is the latest in a series of initiatives to make Starbucks more widely available in China, one of the fastest-growing markets in the world for coffee consumption. While still a predominately tea-drinking nation, China saw a a 16 percent annual increase in coffee consumption between 2004 and 2013 — a growth set to continue over the next few years at 15 to 20 percent.
Starbucks began offering delivery in China through Ele.me in 2018, and also launched a virtual store across Alibaba apps including Taobao, Alipay, and Tmall. In addition, Starbucks now operates ghost kitchens in Alibaba’s Hema supermarkets to fulfill more delivery orders.
Unconnected from Alibaba, Starbucks this year opened an “express retail” concept store for pickup-only orders in Beijing.
These many different moves are meant to help Starbucks as it continues to compete with its main rival in China, Luckin Coffee. The latter is aggressively growing its number of physical locations across China.
More importantly, Luckin caters primarily to delivery and pickup, with many of its stores acting mostly as hubs for fulfilling these orders.
Starbucks is attempting a similar model with its Star Kitchens and express store concept. Whether adding something like voice-order capabilities makes a difference in the rivalry remains to be seen, though it certainly won’t hurt Starbucks to have a major tech giant like Alibaba in its corner as the fight for coffee dominance in China continues.