In a move that directly contradicts the Starbucks’ position of “putting people before products,” the company is reported to be launching vending machines in place of baristas to serve coffee at grocery stores in 8 states.
Starbucks Corp. is experimenting with selling espresso drinks from a machine, sans barista.
The company, through its Seattle’s Best Coffee label, has teamed up with Coinstar Inc. and a small Bellevue company, Concordia Coffee Co. Inc., on automated, self-serve espresso kiosks in grocery stores in eight states.
The idea is to “bring coffee to places where you wouldn’t or couldn’t put a full-service espresso bar,” said Tom Ehlers, general manager and vice president of Seattle’s Best Coffee.
The machines, which grind their own beans, crank out lattes, mochas, chai teas, hot chocolates and drip coffees. There are 86 machines installed in Albertsons stores and other groceries in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Illinois, Wisconsin, Maryland and Tennessee. The machines take credit and debit cards, cash and coins.
I suspect that they’ll come up with a catchy trade name for the “experience,” perhaps Vendissimo or Place v3.0, in reference to their quickly eroding “3rd place” concept. This should not come as much of a shock to anyone; since the company switched to superautomatic espresso machines a few years back, their baristas have been essentially pushbutton operators of similar vending machines behind the counter. It only makes sense to remove employees from the processes and have the customers push the buttons themselves!
What’s next for Starbucks, you might ask? I suggest developing automated customer robots that can interface directly with the machines to remove the cumbersome button pushing and coffee drinking parts of the process. Direct WiFi or RFID transmission of coffee — that will give the full virtual coffeehouse experience!