Photographer: Victor J. Blue /Bloomberg

Starbucks Adds Voice-Ordering Feature to iPhones, Amazon’s Alexa

  • Company bolsters its technology even as it faces headaches
  • Coffee chain has said that mobile ordering has brought pileups

Starbucks Corp. will begin letting customers order via voice on their iPhones and Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa system, a bid to bolster its tech capabilities even as the rapid evolution brings headaches to the coffee chain.

The new capability works with the barista feature on the Starbucks’ app, which relies on artificial intelligence to interact with customers. Customers can talk with the software in the same way they would order coffee at a store, Starbucks said in a statement Monday.

Starbucks is considered a pioneer in embracing mobile payments and rewards systems, but the technology push hasn’t always gone smoothly. The company said last week that the switch to mobile ordering has brought slowdowns at the beverage counters of its cafes. Because so many customers are buying their coffee through their phones, they proceed directly to the same part of the store and create a traffic jam.

“The use of mobile order and pay continues to accelerate,” Chief Operating Officer Kevin Johnson said in an interview last week. “That’s created congestion at the handoff.”

The Seattle-based company first began offering mobile payments in 2009. It expanded the app to include mobile ordering in 2014, letting customers avoid lines at the register. In the U.S., mobile payments now make up 27 percent of transactions.

The new feature will be brought to customers in phases through this summer, and an Android version will come later this year, Starbucks said.

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