Would Starbucks Replace Baristas with Robots to Improve SBUX Earnings?

by Burke Speaker | October 21, 2013 9:38 am

In the future, we’ve been told, everything will be automated.

Of course, that is not only the direction we’re heading now, but it’s also our present. (Isn’t that right, Siri?)

So it isn’t much of a stretch to think that the friendly (or exhausted-looking) smile you see each morning behind the counter at Starbucks (SBUX[1]) be replaced with a few buttons.

The increasingly popular Briggo coffee kiosks (which debuted at the University of Texas in Austin) are set to roll out at numerous still-undisclosed locations across the country[2]. They are most likely to appear in places such as airports, hospitals, and office cafeterias.

They’re a hit at the university — the lines are reduced and you get your coffee without any human error (unless they’re yours).

The coffee is also brewed, literally, to perfection.

How the operation works (via Quartz):[3]

Inside, protected by stainless steel walls and a thicket of patents, there is a secret, proprietary viscera of pipes, storage vessels, heating instruments, robot arms and 250 or so sensors that together do everything a human barista would do if only she had something like perfect self-knowledge. “How is my milk steamer performing? Am I a half-degree off in my brewing temperature? Is my water pressure consistent? Is there any residue buildup on my brewing chamber that might require me to switch to a backup system?”

And as Slate reports[4], you “can order and pay by smartphone, customize the brewing process to your precise specifications, and schedule it to be ready for pickup the minute you arrive. And it really doesn’t care if you say “venti” instead of “large.”[5]

While Starbucks recently said it had no immediate plans to do away with employees in favor of the one-stop shop kiosks, if there are savings and increased profits to be had, look for other chains to start experimenting with robo-baristas.

A global reduction in employees (who don’t need health insurance, work around the clock and never take vacations) would help SBUX earnings soar — along with any other coffee chain that decides to make the move.

Still think it’s impossible?

Tell that to banks, which quickly embraced ATMs, online bill pay, and now even automatic check deposit via your smartphone.

The future may be closer than we think.

  1. SBUX: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=SBUX
  2. are set to roll out at numerous still-undisclosed locations across the country: http://qz.com/134661/briggo-coffee-army-of-robot-baristas-could-mean-the-end-of-starbucks-as-we-know-it/
  3. How the operation works (via Quartz):: http://qz.com/134661/briggo-coffee-army-of-robot-baristas-could-mean-the-end-of-starbucks-as-we-know-it/
  4. And as Slate reports: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/10/briggo_coffee_robot_should_starbucks_replace_baristas_with_machines.html
  5. say “venti” instead of “large.”: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2010/08/lady_who_refuses_to_say_venti.html

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