Alibaba and Starbucks launch voice ordering in China

Date : 23 September 2019

The two companies announced their collaboration to launch voice ordering in China, bringing digital customer engagement to a new high level.

Elevated digital engagement

Customers in China now can order Starbucks at comfort of their home through Alibaba’s voice-activated smart speaker, Tmall Genie. Orders will be delivered by Alibaba’s food delivery platform within a 30-minute window.

The service also has the following key features:

  • Real time tracking: customers can track delivery status of their orders in real time
  • Loyalty reward: Tmall Genie speakers are connected to shoppers’ Starbucks membership accounts and will automatically add loyalty points (Star reward)  to shoppers’ accounts with every purchase
  • Personalisation: shoppers will also receive personalised recommendations based on their previous orders and trending items from Starbucks’ seasonal menu

The collaboration helps both companies meet the needs of China’s digitally savvy customers, who are increasingly expecting seamless, on-demand deliveries for everything, from food to 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,” said Miffy Chen, general manager of Alibaba A.I. Labs, which leads the development of Tmall Genie, in a statement.

Starbucks banking on China to boost sales

The new voice-activated service comes as Starbucks and Alibaba celebrates the one-year anniversary of their strategic partnership to transform the coffee experience in China.

Starbucks is scaling up its digital offering and delivery capacity to compete in China, as it is a key market with huge headroom for future growth:

  • In 2017, Starbucks began accepting Alipay. The same year, it opened its first roastery outside of its home market in Shanghai, featuring mobile technology and augmented-reality experiences designed by Alibaba
  • Starbucks has since tapped Alibaba’s New Retail infrastructure, such as partnering with to expand its delivery coverage and opening back-of-room “Star Kitchens” inside Freshippo, which leverage the supermarket chain’s fulfilment capabilities to enhance its delivery speed and reach

Moving from smartphones to voice-activated digital assistants

As part of the partnership, the Seattle-based coffee chain has also exclusively debuted a new Starbucks-themed Tmall Genie through its flagship store on Tmall. Priced at US$28 each, 3,000 units of Starbucks Genie sold out instantly during a five-hour livestream, which attracted more than 829 million viewers.

Tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu are competing to place more smart speakers in offices and homes in a bid to move away from smartphones to voice-activated digital assistants.

These companies will continue to spend this year in exchange for more users. Scaling up has become their top priority over monetization.  According to Canalys (a technology market analysis firm), the global smart speaker market increased 55.4% in the second quarter of 2019, reaching 26.1 million units. China has overtaken the US as the fastest growing smart speaker market, and Baidu replacing Google to become the world’s second largest smart speaker vendor after Amazon.


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