Starbucks Coronavirus Learnings Spill Over to US

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The coffee chain said the ‘to go’ model was highly effective when deployed first in China in reaction to the COVID-19 spread.

Starbucks Coronavirus Learnings Spill Over to US

By Alarice Rajagopal - 03/16/2020

For at least the next two weeks, Starbucks is planning to take steps to prevent customers from gathering in its cafes in the U.S. and Canada to combat the spread of the new coronavirus. 

While seating inside its cafes and patios will be paused, the company shared on March 15, mobile order and pay, and drive-thru and delivery options will remain.

The company will also make changes to its mobile order pickup station and condiment bars in stores, and allow its partners to wear gloves while taking payments. Some of its company-operated stores will temporarily shut down, especially in high-social gathering locations like in malls or campuses.

Similarly, in locations where there are high clusters of COVID-19 cases (e.g., Seattle or New York), Starbucks will reduce hours or temporarily close select stores.

The coffee chain said that this "to go" model was highly effective when deployed first in China in reaction to the COVID-19 spread.

Starbucks has been working on its mobile platform and testing pick-up only stores in the U.S., perhaps best preparing it for this scenario ahead of the curve. In July 2019, it entered a licensing deal to give its global franchise holders access to Starbucks’ mobile app leading to the creation of an end-to-end digital platform.

After finding much success with its Mobile Order & Pay, the retailer then integrated mobile pickup and delivery tech into its store environment with new express stores. Starbucks also ramped up U.S. delivery after the service first exploded in China – another best practice that started in location and expanded to the broader brand.

In a letter to all U.S. partners, Starbucks shared changes the company is implementing to encourage social distancing, in an effort to help contain the COVID-19 virus. 

“As we all know, the situation with COVID-19 is extremely dynamic and we will continue to review the facts and science and make the proactive decisions necessary to protect our partners, customers and communities,” wrote Rossann Williams, executive vice president and president, U.S. company-operated business and Canada.

Williams continues, “Every community’s needs are incredibly different. We want to make sure we play a constructive role by taking responsible actions, in partnership with the CDC and local public health authorities, so we can continue to do what’s right for our partners and customers.”

This announcement builds on a foundation set by Starbucks chief executive officer Kevin Johnson last week in a letter sharing how the company has been preparing to respond quickly to COVID-19 emerging situations.