Starbucks tap Tmall Genie to deliver hands-free experience

By Sasha Fedorenko September 20, 2019 - 10:27 am

Starbucks are tapping into Alibaba’s voice-speaker, Tmall Genie in an attempt to deliver a hands-free experience as time-poor shoppers are craving convenience across all touchpoints of customer experience.

The move by an American coffeehouse chain will serve as a gateway to Chinese consumers with a new proposition which would see them using their voice to top-up their caffeine levels.

Starbucks are offering consumers to order their favourite food and beverages and have them delivered within 30 minutes in a strategy aimed at out-competing their rivals. Shoppers can also track the delivery status of their orders in real-time, as well as connect membership accounts to the smart speaker to earn Star rewards with every purchase, which add up to free food and drinks. Soon, members will also receive personalised recommendations based on their previous orders and trending items from Starbucks’ seasonal menu.

Miffy Chen, general manager of Alibaba A.I. Labs said the collaboration helps both companies meet the needs of China’s digitally-savvy consumers, who are increasingly expecting seamless, on-demand deliveries for everything from ordering groceries to food and medicine.

“We’re excited to introduce an even more diverse and enriched experience on our platform through Starbucks voice-ordering and provide a direct benefit to Chinese consumers within their daily routine.”

Molly Liu, vice president and general manager of the digital ventures division at Starbucks China, said the new smart speaker marks a new era of digital customer engagement for Starbucks and will help to “[elevate] their connection with customers to new heights.”

We are focused on ensuring that Starbucks voice-ordering is truly personal, and we look forward to offering our customers more convenient moments and new opportunities to engage with Starbucks on a single integrated platform as they move throughout the day.”

As part of the partnership, the Seattle-based coffee chain has also exclusively debuted a new Starbucks-themed Tmall Genie through their flagship store on Tmall, Alibaba’s B2C marketplace. The smart speaker, which comes in the brand’s classic shade of green, features its teddy-bear mascot “Bearista” behind a DJ turntable. Users can play music from a curated playlist by telling the Tmall Genie to “play some Starbucks music,” a feature powered by Alibaba’s music-streaming app Xiami.

About 3,000 Starbucks Genies, priced at RMB 199 (£22) each, sold out instantly during a Livestream hosted by popular Taobao livestreamer Viya Huang on Monday. Huang’s five-hour stream had attracted more than 829 million views.

The new Tmall Genie feature comes as Starbucks and Alibaba celebrate the one-year anniversary of their strategic partnership to transform the coffee experience in China. Starbucks have since tapped Alibaba’s New Retail infrastructure, such as partnering with to expand their delivery coverage or opening back-of-room “Star Kitchens” inside Freshippo, which leverage the supermarket chain’s fulfilment capabilities to enhance their delivery speed and reach.

In 2017, Starbucks’s cafes began accepting mobile wallet Alipay for payment. In December of the same year, Starbucks opened their first roastery outside of their home market in Shanghai, which featured mobile technology and augmented-reality experiences designed by Alibaba.

While China’s per-capita demand for coffee is still a fraction of US consumption – an average mainland Chinese consumer drinks three cups a year versus 363 cups in the US – total consumption grew at an average annual rate of 16% in the last decade, significantly outpacing the world average of 2%, according to the International Coffee Organization.

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Launched in 2014, the purpose of Tmall Global was to make it easier for merchants outside China to get their goods to the burgeoning ecommerce shopping population in China.


Alibaba is China’s biggest online commerce company that offers consumer-to-consumer, business-to-consumer and business-to-business sales.

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