How we would build an app like the Starbucks

We've all been there. You're running late for work, but you need your caffeine fix. What do you do? Wait in the exhaustingly long line at the nearest coffee shop? Or order ahead on the Starbucks mobile app, run in, grab your fix, and hit the road? This is a deep dive into the success of industry leader: Starbucks and their mobile app.

Article by
Becky Chase
Article date
October 21, 2021

Why managing AI risk presents new challenges

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The difficult of using AI to improve risk management

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How to bring AI into managing risk

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Pros and cons of using AI to manage risks

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Benefits and opportunities for risk managers applying AI

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It's no secret that Starbucks is one of the most well-known coffee brands in the modern world. Thanks to the internet and mobile devices, Starbucks has been able to expand its reach, marketing, and ability to service caffeine addicts, far by-passing their competitors. Online ordering services and apps have become very popular with the rise of remote work and social distancing. But what makes Starbucks, specifically, so successful? Let's dive into the components that give the Starbucks app the X factor, and how we'd achieve the same results.

#1. Coffee Shop Market Information

Starbucks is by far the largest coffee shop chain worldwide. Boasting over 18,354 stores in the Americas and a total of 32,660 stores worldwide [September 2020]. Whereas Dunkin', Starbuck's top competitor, has 8,500 stores in the US and a total of 11,300 stores worldwide. [Dunkin']

In 2019, Starbucks generated over $21 billion in sales in the US alone, more than double its closest competitor. The coffee and coffee shop industry has grown by 3.3% year on year. If you want to break into the mobile coffee shop market, you need to research the industry leaders, i.e. Starbucks. There is a huge market for coffee shops, you just have to find a way to model what's already working. Put your own unique spin on what works.

Most popular restaurant rewards app (2021)

Starbucks' social strategy have played a huge part in the success of the brand's marketing campaigns, earning them 36 million fans on Facebook alone. By highlighting their team, specials, and personable messages, the brand puts heightened emphasis on Starbucks as a lifestyle brand.

Maintaining a strong image across social media, making their logo one of the most recognizable logos in the world.

#2. The "Starbucks Factor"

There is no shortage of Coffee Shop apps on the app stores. Plenty of businesses have mobile apps that aren't nearly as successful as the Starbucks app. Peet's Coffee, Tim Hortons, Dunkin', The Coffee Bean, not to mention fast-food chains that offer coffee. Those are just a few of the Starbucks competitors. And still, Starbucks remains a "supreme being" among mortals. The total number of Starbucks’ Mobile Order & Pay users reached 16.3 million by the end of 2018. Which begs the question, how did their mobile app become such a pivotal point in their brand journey?

First, we will look at when a few of the other top apps were released in comparison to the Starbucks mobile app, which debuted in 2009. Dunkin released their app in 2012, and McDonald's followed 3 years later releasing their own app in 2015. Not only was the Starbucks app the first of its kind, its user experience is still yet to be beat. So much so, that new food and beverage apps entering the market still use Starbucks as the industry standard for online ordering.

The true genius of the Starbucks app is rooted in the giant piles of money that its users hold in their accounts . Industry experts are beginning to consider categorizing Starbucks as more of a bank than a coffee company. This is because Starbucks has over 1.56 billion dollars in reserves. And what's even more eye opening is that 10% of funds users add will never be spent. Meaning, Starbucks can hold as much money as a bank, without any of the regulations.

Despite the enticing $1.56 billion figure, 3,900 US banks have less than $1 billion in total assets according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

"Because Starbucks balances cannot be withdrawn for cash, this allows it to use deposited money however Starbucks likes." -Polymatter

Now that we have all the background information on the industry and Starbucks, It's time to discuss the actual app and strategy behind the development.

#3. App Strategy

Before we can start dissecting the coffee apps, we need to talk about the over-arching strategy for your mobile app. This applies to all mobile applications, regardless of industry. No matter the app you're trying to build, this is a general checklist for all mobile app

a. Niche

A niche is your specific focus in the market. Your general category, in this case, would be a coffee shop. Your niche could be a coffee shop for nerds. It is important to define your niche before starting to develop the code or designing your app.

The best way to select your niche, is to define your target audience, research your customer base, and create a marketing strategy. Your niche will often times dictate your general design theme as well. For example if you decide to go for a bookstore and coffee shop, you'll most likely stick to earthier tones, with a homey feel, and warm clean vintage look. Whereas, a coffee shop for nerds might have darker colors with pops of bright colors, pop art, etc.

Starbucks emerged during the period when people were starting to become more health conscious and aware of the quality of foods they were putting in their bodies. The founders, saw that there was an untapped market. So, they opened the first location in Seattle and sold authentic coffee beans to coffee lovers'. Initially their niche was "Authentic Coffee Beans".

Since then, Starbucks now capitalizes on a law of marketing called the Group-Mindset. Similar to FOMO, Group-Mindset is formed by a group of friends or colleagues who follow the majority or a leader. For example, "All my friends get venti caramel frappes from Starbucks, but I go to Dunkin' and they tease me for it."

b. Style and Design

Your style and design will infiltrate all aspects of your business. It's best to create a style guide and branding guidelines document to ensure that your image is consistent across all forms of media.

User flow and wireframes: ordering item from Starbucks app

Important factors to think about when developing your brand style, are accessibility, color psychology, and brand uniqueness.

For Example, Starbucks uses the color green to symbolize "Balance", "harmony", and "growth".

Potential Starbucks branding redesign. Source:

c. Content

Content is an important factor in your mobile app's success. Content can be anything from gift card designs, micro-animations, special offers, to holiday only menu items (Think Pumpkin Spice). For a Starbucks-like app, that's generally all the content you'll have to curate and manage.

The design of your app will be the first piece of content created. This will be developed in the "Design" phase [discussed in the "The Entire Process Explained" section]. Wireframes, visual mocks, and user flows will be created for your app to get a better understanding of how we expect the customer to flow through the app.

Your content organization and presentation play a pivotal role in your app's success. Take a look at the Starbucks app. The recognizable green mermaid logo is carried through all the content. But even if it weren't, each of the gift cards are easily recognizable as belonging to Starbucks, even if the logo wasn't there. This is because the colors, fonts, and look are "uniquely" Starbucks. Could you imagine what a Starbucks branded hotel might look like? This is the power of branding.

d. Android & iOS Platforms

Deciding which platform to push your mobile app live to is an important one. We recommend publishing to both app stores. Customers tend to get angry when they're favorite apps are only available on one platform and not the other. There used to be reasons to pick one over the other (budget being the main one). But that's no longer the case.

When we develop a mobile application, our team utilizes a special technology called "React Native" that allows us to code once and it works natively on both iOS and Android. Tadaa! Magic ✨

e. Audience

Your audience will have been narrowed down when you created your niche profile. You'll need to define some of the specifics, such as your target demographic's age, gender, ethnicity, and hobbies. It is vital that your design and marketing, teams fully understand your customer profile. This will allow them to properly communicate your brand messaging.

#4. How to Develop an App Like Starbucks

First, we need to dissect the Starbucks app. In the long run, it will save you time and money. This list allows your development team ample time to strategize in developing the core features.

There are a few questions we need to ask ourselves.

  • What unique features does the Starbucks app have that we want to emulate?
  • What features do industry apps have in common?
  • What can my app do that isn't currently being done?
  • Adding in a reward point system encourages customers to frequently return in hopes of gaining enough points to earn a free drink. Stars (for Starbucks) will disappear after a while, so users have to return fairly often to continue to grow their star count. Starbucks has a feature in which using one of their gift cards will unlock rewards twice as fast as using another form of payment.

    On the Starbucks app, you can easily access the "select your location", and are presented with the featured items You can add items to your favorites tab and navigate to view the full menu.

    Home screen and Offers flow

    You can offer more points for purchases made with a gift card. Starbucks has used this strategy to rack up approximately $1.56 Billion in cash reserves. To excite customers, Starbucks uses bright, animated cards to capture the spirit of the current season. Starbucks offers colorful pre-paid gift cards, which can be reloaded. This allows for easy, one-click ordering because your account is already funded.

    We can assume that these are part of what makes their respective customers keep coming back for more. So what features can be added, to improve the Starbucks app?

    Currently, the Starbucks app doesn't have a feature to pre-order a drink, and pick it up at a later time. What about scheduling recurring orders ahead of time? Adding these additional features would add an extra function to your app over the Starbucks app.

    #5. Feature List

    The most important features to include in your coffee shop app are the following.

  • Favorite items - Allow users to add menu items to their favorites. This will improve your user experience by enabling one-click ordering.
  • Preorder, Curbside Delivery, and Pick up - This feature is more important in recent times due to social distancing. Curbside delivery couples the ease of old-school drive-ins with the safety of social distancing.
  • Custom Drink - Make sure users can customize or add special instructions to menu items.
  • Menu - Ensure that this section is aesthetically pleasing and easy to use. Think big round buttons and clearly label sections for picking the size and pricing. Ensure important sections are easy to differentiate, especially, the size and pricing options. Depending on your business strategy, you can offer more points for purchases made with a gift card, like Starbucks.
  • Rewards - This feature will increase the likelihood your customers will return daily. We recommend having the reward points expire, so customers will be more inclined to return sooner for more points.
  • Push notifications - Utilize the native notifications to remind customers about upcoming offers or send a friendly reminder that they have points available to use. A study on mobile app usage found that push notifications increased app usage by 53%.
  • #6. Important Requirements

    The mobile applications for coffee shop menus and ordering have a few important requirements in common. Features like accurate maps, locations, and mobile payments are examples of features most apps will have.

    The first one would be an easy-to-manage "Content Management System". This would allow the menu, offers, and announcements to be changed by any employee in charge of managing the app. This could be a partner mobile app or web application that houses the content and allows updates to the customer facing app. It would be impractical if it were up to the development team to constantly push updates with content, offers, and other announcements manually for a client. Empowering your content or marketing team to move fast and edit things like colors, menu, text, and descriptions without needing to code anything is highly beneficial both cost and time wise.

    User Interface and Design for selecting a Starbucks location, ordering, and customizing your drink

    When a user is in their vehicle, it is pretty likely, they are using mobile data. Ensure that the app can be used without an internet connection.

    Is your app going to be available on both Android and iOS devices? It's very possible to develop an app for both OS' in a reasonable timeframe, with all the features you want. Our team utilizes a JavaScript framework called React Native. React Native is a JavaScript framework, which adds tools and functionality, allowing for development of both an iOS and Android app to be developed with one code base.

    86% of people are bothered by having to create a new login for a website. You should allow users to log in with social media platforms or Google, enabling this option can increase signups by up to 40%.

    Customers my know their credit card and home address will be secure. Starbucks encrypts your data keeping it safe from hackers. The card and address information is stored in your Starbucks Rewards account. To ensure that no data can be stolen, the Starbucks app prohibits screenshots being taken of the "add payment method" and the " Scan" pages.

    Now that you have your app strategy down. It's time to get into the nitty-gritty; how we, Nexrage Studios, would build a coffee shop mobile application.


    #7. Tools to Build a Coffee Shop Mobile App

    Here are Tech Stacks we'd recommend to build a Starbucks-Like Mobile App

  • .NET (Backend)
  • React (Front-end)
  • SQL Server (Database)
  • Microsoft Azure (Hosting) We would recommend .NET or Java for the backend because these stacks are ideal for enterprise-level solutions. And React for frontend because we can develop natively for iOS and Android.
  • #8. Points to Keep in Mind

    Product determination

    User Experience

    Starbucks has the highest retention rate of any restaurant app (75%). This means that if 100 customers purchased this month, 75 of those same customers would purchase again next month. We believe this is because the app experience is very fast.

    User flow and wireframes: adding funds on Starbucks app

    Personalization and big data

    We can simplify the ordering process through 1-Click ordering where customers can reorder their favorite drink. Use existing drink order data to put a twist on most popular drinks (pumpkin spice latte, etc.)

    Planning of ad strategy

    Give the customer an offer that would be hard to refuse. Because the customers, are already Starbucks customers, their dilemma is if they should order in the app or just order in person. A first-order discount, points rewards, and saved time through the app would incentivize the customer to order in-app. This could be conveyed through TikTok, and Snapchat quick form ads.

    Quality of Service (QoS)

    We can implement live chat through the Starbucks app. This could be used for the customer to highlight any problems with their drinks. If there is a problem with an order, customers will be refunded and given a discount for their next purchase.


    App Store and Google Play would be the two platforms that would cover the majority of the customer base. Ordering through the website would still be an option for other devices.

    There are several methods that can be utilized to acquire new customers. Here are a few ways we'd get customers:

  • Barista Recommendation at checkout, with the offer of their first drink with the app being free.
  • Flyers around the coffee shop, promoting the first drink with the app being free.
  • App store paid placement
  • Snapchat or Instagram scroll ads.
  • Sharing a promotion code, such as "FREEBE", for a free small drink lowers our cost per user signup. It also increases the likelihood of a customer continually using the app.

    #9. The Entire Process Explained

    The cycle of development will usually vary depending on the software development firm's method of project management. Here at Nexrage, we use the Agile Method - deploying the app with only its core features, then adding more features every month until it's complete.

    a. Discovery The first stage in our process is Discovery. In this phase, we start with getting to know your business. Here we learn what your goals and objectives are. We research and start developing the app strategy (if one does not already exist) along with your team.

    b. Design The "Design" phase is next, we create interactive visual mocks with documentation of how the product will look and behave before we start developing the app. In this phase, everything and anything can be tweaked.

    c. Develop And then we code. In the "Develop" stage, as its name suggests, we start developing your project. Our team prides itself on transparency and open communication. We invite all our clients to our task management platform, allowing them complete purview into what tasks and features are being implemented. Our quality assurance team works alongside our software engineers every day, ensuring that any mistakes, bugs, or miscellaneous issues are resolved in a timely manner.

    d. Launch Finally, lift-off! During the Launch phase we provide you with a smooth delivery of your application to your users.

    e. Maintenance + New Features Your mobile app will need ongoing maintenance after launch. Did you know, the "AV-TEST Institute" registers over 450,000 new viruses every single day! Regular app maintenance becomes crucial to protect your app from hackers. The developers must keep the app updated with the latest security protocols and save the app from cyber threats. Your app should also continuously improve with new features that keep it fresh.

    When it's all said and done, you'll have a fully functioning mobile application to support your coffee shop business.

    #10. Total Cost

    #11. Our Experience

    To date, we've worked on many projects including mobile payments and locations. One of our flagship clients, Glorious PC Gaming Race, is a legendary computer accessory retailer. Glorious provides top of the line fully customizable mechanical keyboards, mice, and other accessories geared toward epic gamers. Their wide range of "accessories" bring anyone's desktop setup to a whole new level.

    We optimized their ecommerce platform, and built out their product customization flow, ensuring their customers satisfaction. Access the Glorious responsive ecommerce website from any device.

    Ascend your battle station with the full family of Glorious competitive PC gaming products. Every piece of gear on this site is engineered to be the perfect combination of high performance, aesthetics, state-of-the-industry technology, and affordability for any gamer.

    Customization options on the Glorious website for the GMMK pro.

    Now you have everything you need to build a Starbucks-like mobile app! If you're looking for software development experts to help you build an app like this, Contact Us today.