Starbucks' lines are becoming a total illusion -- and it's a huge problem for customers

Walking into Starbucks and seeing a short line was once a small triumph — a lucky turn of events that paved the way to a well-caffeinated day.

However, with the rise of mobile ordering, the lack of a crowd no longer means you won’t end up waiting. 

Starbucks has recently struggled with mobile ordering at high-traffic locations, with the mix of mobile and walk-in orders causing bottlenecks during busy hours. 

To see how these problems were playing out in reality, I visited a busy Starbucks location every day for a week during rush hour. 

One of the most frustrating discoveries was that it was impossible to predict how long I would end up waiting for my beverage based on the line I saw after walking into the store. 

Starbucks mobileKate TaylorEven when there was no line to order, there was typically a large crowd of customers waiting for their mobile pickups.

One of my longest waits, which took 10 minutes, 35 seconds, occurred when there was no line at the front of the store; another day, I received my drink in 4 minutes, 15 seconds despite a crowd of customers waiting to order. 

I’m not alone in my struggles. On Twitter, many users have complained about similar issues. 

Obviously, longer wait times are a problem for Starbucks no matter how you spin them. However, waiting longer for mobile orders — especially when there is no line of walk-in customers — can be even more infuriating for customers as it feels “unfair.” 

Mobile orders have long been a customer cheat to skip the line. 

When using the app no longer means a speedier Starbucks experience, it offers customers less incentive to download — especially if mobile users see with their own eyes that they could have gotten their beverages faster by simply walking into the store. 

Starbucks is trying to improve its mobile ordering system by adding more baristas during busy hours, developing new tech, and revamping store design. As the coffee chain tests solutions, it needs to realise success isn’t just speeding up mobile orders. It also requires customers believing their wait times aren’t “unfairly” long. 

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