What One Coffee Chain Learned After Extensively Testing Order-Ahead

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is new to mobile order-ahead – but not to the market. The chain, now with 1,200 locations worldwide, was founded in its original form in 1963 in California.

After 54 years in the market,  they like to pride themselves on making an “extraordinary cup of coffee.”

A lot has changed since the chain was founded 54 years ago. Today, getting a cup of coffee into a customer’s hands is more than just making the best cup of java around. Sure, customers want a good cup of coffee first thing in the morning – and probably always will – but these days how easily the customer can get that cup in their hands and get going is almost as important as how extraordinary the brew tastes.

“When people want coffee or tea, they want it now, and we want their orders to be ready when they are,” Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s Aidan Hay said in a statement.

That feedback from consumers has been particularly clear on this point over the last 18 months – as consumers have repeatedly and clearly indicated they wanted, particularly at drive times.”

A reality that is particularly observable among firms with which The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf directly competes. A quick glance at the latest edition of the PYMNTS Mobile Order-Ahead Tracker indicates that as of the end of 2017, 11 percent of Starbucks business came from orders placed on mobile and away from the store. And Dunkin’s Donuts plans to build 50 new stores completely designed around its emerging on-the-go order platform by 2019.

And it is now something that The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has added to their roster.

The wide launch of order-ahead – which, as of this week, is live in 191 of its company stores in Southern California and Arizona – is just such an opportunity for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to reach out and touch a new, and perhaps more digitally enabled, consumer.

And that roll-out is just the beginning, as the brand plans to roll out order-ahead capability to franchise locations throughout the rest of this year and into early 2019.  The rollout has been carefully phased – after over 54 years in business the brand has learned that measuring twice, cutting once is the way to launch new initiatives – and as a result the experience spent a lot of time in beta

Beating Back the Bugs

Before making its large move on mobile order-ahead, the L.A.-based coffee chain spent several months beta-testing the service in 22 store locations in Southern California and Arizona.

It was an excellent opportunity, to get a fast-paced crash course in everything they didn’t know we didn’t know about mobile order-ahead

That both involves a technological process porting the mobile and digital orders into their back-end and constructing their mobile rewards and discounts program around their order-ahead offering.

“Mobile order-ahead was designed to be a draw into our mobile platform,” noted Hay.

And once the offering is made – there is also solving deceptively tricky  physical logistics of preparing and handing off mobile orders to consumers. The goal, after all, is line-busting, not line-relocation – and simply dedicating a space for customers to wait around to pick up their orders didn’t solve anyone’s problem.

And that is especially  important for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, who has tied their order-ahead program to Uber riders: people on the go who aren’t interested in cooling their heels waiting for coffee or tea to be made.

The Uber Integration

The interesting twist with the Coffee Bean mobile order-ahead expansion is that it not only includes a way for customer to order their drink, but also ties in a way to get a ride via an in-app integration with Uber.

It’s not exactly an unprecedented move – Lyft briefly offered an integration with Taco Bell last year called “taco mode” that allowed customers to request a driver to detour to a drive-thru on the way to a destination from within the Lyft app. It turned out to be a bit of a fiasco, according to the Spoon blog, as drivers found their productivity was eaten up by sitting in drive-thru lines. Lyft eventually had to clarify to drivers that the program was optional, and that it was up to their discretion as to whether they would make a run for the border with a rider or not.

But the early-morning coffee crowd that The Coffee Bean & Leaf is targeting with Uber may end up being a bit different in nature than the late-night Taco Bell crowd. And the consequences of a spill – smell- and mess-wise – differ quite a bit between a latte and a seven-layer burrito, so Uber may not see the groundswell of driver discontent that taco mode brought on.

And coffee drinkers love their order-ahead, if Starbucks and Dunkin’s are any indication, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf certainly took their time to work out the bugs.

“The mobile ordering feature offers convenience, flexibility and plenty of rewards. We know our guests are going to love it,” Hay stated.