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Starbucks Starts Taking Orders By App Nationwide Today

Ordering via smartphone means customers can skip the line, and Starbucks can boost sales during rush hour. Here's how the app will work.

Posted on September 22, 2015, at 8:01 a.m. ET

Francisco Ramos Sabugo Rodriguez / Via Starbucks.com

It's a big day for people sick of standing in line for their latte: Starbucks is launching mobile ordering nationwide on Tuesday, following a limited rollout that started last December. Customers in the U.S. will be able to order and pay for food and drink using the Starbucks app in both iOS and Android devices. All that's left to do is walk into the store and pick it up.

The service will be available at the chain's 7,400 company-owned stores in the U.S. (it already had rolled out to about 4,000 by summer), but not the thousands of other locations run by licensees (for example, those in Target). The chain will also offer it in some locations in the U.K. and Canada later this year.

"Mobile order and pay is clearly the initiative that investors are most excited about at this juncture, and rightly so, in our opinion," stated an analyst report by the firm William Blair.

More fast-food chains are developing technology that allows consumers to place their orders themselves. Panera and Taco Bell have also rolled out mobile ordering apps, while others like McDonald's are installing in-store kiosks.

Already, about 1 in 5 Starbucks customers pay by app, which helps to speed up the line. The company hopes that by eliminating, or at least reducing, wait times by allowing customers to order before they arrive, people will be more willing to stop in during the morning rush hour, or when they have little time to spend in line. For those who don't want to step foot in a Starbucks at all, the chain is also working on a delivery service, which will mainly target customers placing group orders.

In test markets in the Pacific Northwest, mobile ordering helped Starbucks to increase sales. "Mobile order and pay is fueling both revenue and profit growth in every market in which it has been deployed," CEO Howard Schultz told investors in July.

Here's how it will work.

First, you'll need to open the Starbucks app, and have some money in your account, of course.

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Select your drinks and food. The entire menu is available on mobile order.

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You can customize your beverages, including add-ins, flavors, and number of espresso shots. The app will eventually recommend additional items too, encouraging larger orders.

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Select the store you want to pick up your order from. It's best not to be too far from the café when you start the order, since the baristas will prepare it once it comes through.

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The app will estimate a time for pickup based on how busy the store is (this was one of the trickier features for developers). After you place your order, you can choose to leave a tip, which is split between the crew.

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Back at the store, a ticket with your name and order shoots out from a printer near the register. There are separate printers for drinks and food.

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The barista sticks the receipt onto a cup and prepares your drink.

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Mobile orders sit behind the bar until the customer arrives and retrieves it at the regular pickup counter.

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