How Starbucks is Using Artificial Intelligence to Connect Customers and Boost Sales

Imagine pulling into a Starbucks drive-thru and seeing not just your drink order but your name on the screen — along with the suggestions of what foods you might like with your drink, automatically generated by the weather, your buying history, and the choices that others with similar preferences have made.

Coming soon to a Starbucks drive-through near you — and to your smartwatch, and possibly to each store’s cash register — are serving suggestions generated by artificial intelligence. It’s all part of the coffee giant’s plan to use AI and the cloud to drive sales and growth, as laid out in a 45-minute presentation this month at Starbucks Investor Day in Manhattan.

“I hope you’re convinced we’re continuing to set the bar for digital in brick-and-mortar,” said Matt Ryan, Starbucks chief strategy officer, after laying out the company’s technology plans. “Our ecosystem of digital propositions for the customer . . . all operate together as a platform, and it’s that platform that really separates us from the rest of the retail world, which has struggled to be more than bricks and mortar. It gives us the advantage we have moving forward.”

Seattle-based Starbucks is going strong — growing steadily and last month posting its most profitable quarter and fiscal year ever. But it wants to make its employees, customers and especially its shareholders even happier, and it’s looking to technology to help propel it forward. The push comes as longtime technology executive Kevin Johnson prepares to take over as Starbucks CEO from Howard Schultz next year, giving the company more tech experience at the top.

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