Starbucks continues to show it’s taking growth and innovation in China seriously, with the announcement of a new voice ordering system. Customers will be able to issue voice commands to Alibaba’s smart speaker, Tmall Genie for food and beverage delivery orders.
This new functionality is the latest perk of the strategic partnership between Starbucks and Alibaba, which has hit its one year mark. Not only is the voice capability taking advantage of Alibaba’s hardware, it’s leveraging Alibaba’s on-demand food delivery platform, Ele.me. The announcement also builds on several significant collaborations between the two companies, such as establishing back-of-house kitchens, Star Kitchens, within Alibaba’s Freshippo supermarkets in China.
Miffy Chen, general manager at Alibaba A.I. Labs (the team that’s leading Tmall Genie’s development) said, “We are thrilled to provide our cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence technology through Tmall Genie to serve Starbucks digitally-savvy customers in China. Earlier this year, we launched food order and delivery service through Ele.me in response to our users’ needs for on-demand local services. We’re excited to introduce an even more diverse and enriched experience on our platform through Starbucks voice ordering and provide a direct benefit to Chinese consumers within their daily routine.”
For regular users, the new system offers some of the expected benefits for a service like this, such as being able to track orders. However, a larger goal for the launch is to get Starbucks Rewards scheme members onboard. Members using the voice order service on the Tmall Genie will earn points and receive membership updates and benefits. Plans are also in motion to eventually allow these users to receive personalized recommendations for orders that will be tailored to their preferences when using voice command. They’re even providing Starbucks in-store playlists through Alibaba’s music streaming app, Xiami Music. That’s the only weird flex in our opinion but maybe it’s for people who’ll intensely miss the background sounds of physically being in their local Starbucks we guess?
But what we will admit is a pretty cute branded product that’s part of this launch, is the exclusive Starbucks-themed Tmall Genie being available through the Starbucks virtual store in China. And if this was anywhere else, one might ask if this product was worth producing. But in China – one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for coffee consumption, where Starbucks stands as an aspirational lifestyle brand for the middle class – we wouldn’t be surprised if a pile of units get sold.
“The Starbucks feature through Alibaba’s Tmall Genie ushers in a new era of digital customer engagement for Starbucks, leveraging ground-breaking digital technology to create an unprecedented experience that elevates our connection with customers to new heights,” said Molly Liu, vice president and general manager, Digital Ventures, Starbucks China. “We are focused on ensuring that Starbucks voice ordering is truly personal, and we look forward to offering our customers more convenient moments and new opportunities to engage with Starbucks on a single integrated platform as they move throughout the day.”