Starbucks and Uber just inked a deal which integrates the latter’s transportation functionality into the Starbucks app, allowing user to select Uber as an option for navigating to the closest store for their caffeine fix. This new feature is thanks to Uber’s release of its API to a number of firms, allowing them to bake in this sort of functionality into their own native apps.
But, as my wife incredulously put it, “there are a thousand Starbuckses in every city.” She’s pretty close to correct. There are 212 Starbucks outposts in Manhattan – an appropriate number, no? – meaning that there are, on average, six caffeinated mermaid-themed coffeehouses for every one of New York’s 33.7 square miles, negating the need to ever take a cab to Starbucks. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I drove to the Starbucks on West 17th?” Of course you haven’t. Partially because there isn’t one, and partially because there are other outposts on 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 19th. Part of Starbucks’s business model – and one of its criticisms – is its ubiquity, and the fact that one need never take a cab from their home to the nearest ‘bux. Unless they roll out Starbucks Mobile Pour, that is.
But Uber’s goal is broader. They want to become your go-to form of transportation, replacing public transportation, your own car, a rental car, and especially, Lyft. And so it’s not necessarily about tapping into the mobile coffee-drinkers market inasmuch as it is about becoming the default transportation option for any trip, no matter the distance. It’s about the consumer psychology, not the practicality.
And to that end, the Uber-Starbucks deal is one that maintains Uber’s affordable luxury brand cachet. Much like American Express, with whom it has partnered as well, Uber, and Starbucks, are predicated upon the idea of affordable luxury. In contrast to coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s, the cost of a Starbucks Americano skews 20-75% higher. But, like the experience of hailing a car from one’s smartphone, the Starbucks experience is a rarified, wi-fi-ed, Norah Jonesified one. I paid $4.50 for this latte, and I will certainly not move my Macbook Air.
Now excuse me, I think the barista just called my name.