4 Ways Mobile Can Future-Proof Your Coffee Business

The coffee industry’s outlook on 2015 reminds me of the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

First, the “the best of times”: Quality coffee is more popular than ever. Consumers will gladly pay premium prices for fair-trade beans, new preparation methods, and a curated ambiance. But even as coffee culture is now ubiquitous, so are Starbucks locations. Independent coffee shops are squeezed by chains, by increasingly sophisticated home preparation, by consumer belt-tightening – indeed, by each other. As coffee culture democratizes, it puts pressure on independents to raise their games.

Many coffee purveyors see “going mobile” as a box to check and nothing more. It may surprise you to learn, however: mobile can help you solve four top vulnerabilities coffee businesses face in 2015.

A word on mobile payments
You’ll notice right away that mobile payment isn’t a near-term vulnerability I discuss below. Mobile payment is exciting, but it doesn’t solve a particularly pressing customer problem. You can already pay for your coffee a zillion convenient ways. Paying with your smartphone will impress your date, but it won’t make your life appreciably easier.

Mobile payment is coming, however, and coffee brands must embrace mobile generally for long-term survival. But how do you start? Enter mobile loyalty programs. By encouraging repeat business with a mobile program, you’re forging a crucial mobile link between customer and merchant, paving the ways for lots of exciting longer-term innovations with near-term benefits that merchants and customers love.

Earning rewards can slow down the line.
Beacons automate mobile check-ins for regulars.

Beacon technology is perhaps the most exciting innovation to hit mobile loyalty for coffee businesses. We predict it’ll become widespread by the end of 2015.

Think of beacons as lighthouses: they emit a low-energy Bluetooth signal that nearby mobile phones can respond to, like moving ships. You roll up to your favorite coffee shop, phone in hand. You’ve already signed up for a loyalty program and checked in manually once. Sensing this, your mobile app asks if you’d like to automate future check-ins with this merchant. If you agree, you’ll be automatically checked in every time you stroll into the shop.

Beacons automate mobile check-ins, which eliminates fumbling for your phone and keeps the register lines moving. But beacons also empower merchants to deliver magical new retail experiences. If you browse near the coffee-making equipment, a mobile message can alert you to cool products on sale. With automated check-in, mobile pre-ordering becomes infinitely easier – see below. We’re just scratching the surface with the potential of beacon technology, but it’s sure to be tremendous.

Customers only stop in for morning joe.
Targeted mobile specials bring them back all day long.

It’s an age-old problem: how do you tempt the AM-coffee crowd back for lunch or snacks? Answer: mobile specials tailored to their preferences.

Say it’s a rainy, cold Thursday afternoon. You ping your customers with a demonstrated sweet tooth for a 3pm snack: get 2 cookies for the price of 1 – while they’re still warm! The customer checks in at your store and taps the special to redeem it at the register – nothing simpler or more satisfying.

Mobile specials are an incredibly versatile tool for coffee businesses. Introduce new menu items to customers likely to enjoy them. Drive foot traffic during slower hours. Cross-sell products your customers may like, but just aren’t aware of. Surprise loyal customers with an occasional treat. Try a “Like Us to Unlock” mobile special to motivate your social media fan base. Think of mobile specials like a barista well-versed in every one of your regulars’ tastes. They can confidently recommend a new menu item or today’s special, and customers will appreciate the personalized assist.

Who has time to wait for an order?
Mobile pre-ordering speeds up the line.

Another mobile innovation on the horizon for 2015 is mobile pre-ordering. The concept is simple but thrilling: instead of rattling off the details of your daily coffee order, your mobile app will soon know your regular order and alert wait-staff to start preparing it as soon as you check-in. Talk about speeding up the line.

How can you personalize service and market more effectively?
Mobile puts “big data” to work for small coffee businesses.

Another under-appreciated benefit of mobile loyalty programs is how data-rich they are. Customer buying habits, purchase frequency, product and reward preferences, even how successful your latest mobile special campaign was – coffee merchants can know all of that and more instantly with a mobile loyalty program. Marketing insights are yours for the asking once you’ve got a mobile loyalty program up and running.

Mobile loyalty helps you test your best hunches about what new menu items to introduce, how to boost foot traffic, which higher-value products to cross-sell, and much more. It complements your social media efforts nicely, too. Best of all, the data you’ll gather with a mobile loyalty phone helps you cultivate deep and lasting relationships with your customers in an intimate space: their mobile phones.

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