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Starbucks and Alibaba team up in ‘Genie-us’ delivery service

Starbucks and Alibaba have teamed up to allow consumers in China to order coffee using their Tmall Genie smart speaker.

From the comfort of their sofa, those seeking a hot latte or an iced tea can simply call out “‘Tmall Genie: I want Starbucks delivered’. And within 30 minutes of placing a verbal order for food and beverages, it will arrive, thanks to Alibaba’s Tmall.

They 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, says Miffy Chen, GM of Alibaba A.I. Labs, the artificial-intelligence research unit behind the Tmall Genie.

She 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.

Molly Liu, VP and GM 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 “[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,” Liu said.

As part of the partnership between Starbucks andAlibaba, the Seattle-based coffee chain has also exclusively debuted a new Starbucks-themed Tmall Genie through its flagship store on Tmall, Alibaba’s B2C e-commerce site. 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 3000 Starbucks Genies, priced at RMB 199 (US$28) 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 celebrates the one-year anniversary of their strategic partnership to transform the coffee experience in China. Starbucks has since tapped Alibaba’s New Retail infrastructure, such as partnering with to expand its delivery coverage or opening back-of-room “Star Kitchens” inside Freshippo, which leverage the supermarket chain’s fulfillment capabilities to enhance its delivery speed and reach.

In 2017, Starbucks’s cafes began accepting mobile wallet Alipay for payment. In December of the same year, Starbucks opened its first roastery outside of its 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 per cent in the last decade, significantly outpacing the world average of 2 per cent, according to the International Coffee Organization.

  • Original reporting by Christine Chou of Alizila, the independent, Alibaba-funded source of news on the Alibaba Group.

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