Alexa, my Americano! Starbucks unveils chatbot for iOS, Amazon devices

When unlocking your smartphone, launching the Starbucks app, and placing an order’s a little too much to handle, there is an easier way to get your caffeine fix. On Monday, the company s rolled out what it calls “on-command ordering,” a feature that lets anyone with an Amazon Echo speaker or iPhone place an order by using a chatbot or voice

“The Starbucks experience is built on the personal connection between our barista and customers, so everything we do in our digital ecosystem must reflect that sensibility,” Gerri Martin-Flickinger, chief technology officer for Starbucks, said in a statement. “Our team is focused on making sure that Starbucks voice ordering within our app is truly personal and equally important was finding the right partner in Amazon to test and learn from this new capability.”

The Alexa integration’s pretty straightforward. Once the skill (Amazon’s term for “app”) is enabled via Alexa’s dashboard and a Starbucks account linked, Echo users can say “Alexa, order my Starbucks” to queue up designated favorites from one of the last 10 stores they have ordered from. Asking  “Alexa, tell Starbucks to check my balance,” meanwhile, supplies the primary Starbucks Card balance.

The updated iOS app features an AI assistant called “My Starbucks barista.” The digital chatbot, much like the chat apps that have become popular in Facebook Messenger, uses artificial intelligence by way of natural language processing to facilitate ordering. It provides up-to-date information about menu items, prices, and orders — users can ask which seasonal beverages are currently on tap or which baked goods are available in store. Once the customers have reached checkout phase, it will confirm a pick-up location, provide a list of available payment methods, and place the order.

The coffemaker says that the new assistant will only be available to 1,000 iOS users nationwide during a limited beta test. A phased rollout is planned through summer 2017, with an Android version to follow later in the year.

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The mobile app’s recent popularity has caused a headache for some of the cafe’s busiest locations. According to Fortune, baristas have had difficulty keeping up with mobile orders, which has led to bottlenecks at delivery stations and caused some walk-in customers to leave. The company has since added one to two more baristas focused on mobile orders and payment at some “top volume” cafes.

With the launch of voice ordering and an in-app chatbot, the coffee-making giant is targeting recent trends. In May, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that 20 percent of queries in the Google mobile app on Android devices are voice searches. At a conference in June, Facebook’s David Marcus announced that more than 11,000 bots had been added to Messenger since the launch of the social network’s development platform in late 2015.


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