How to Make a Coffee App Like Starbucks

In this article, we look at the Starbucks app phenomenon. We try to explain the popularity of Starbucks and describe what you need to create a mobile ordering app for your own coffee shop.


What is the secret of Starbucks’ popularity?

Starbucks is one of the biggest chains of coffee stores ever. The question is how did they become a monopolist in this field? The answer is simple: they launched their order-and-pay mobile app in 2009. Let’s see how it influenced their market position.

According to Statista, in 2020, Starbucks made $19.16 billion in revenue. That’s double their revenue prior to launching the mobile app. So how did they do it?

Starbucks revenue

The Starbucks app has changed the market for a number of reasons. Let’s see why customers are so attracted to Starbucks.

If we’re going to speak about Starbucks’ attractiveness, we should talk about their loyalty program. The Starbucks loyalty program is one of the most effective triggers for customers to make purchases in Starbucks. The main idea is that a customer receives two stars for each $1 spent. When they collect 125 stars, they can redeem them for free goods from the Starbucks shop. In addition, app users receive a free drink for their birthday from Starbucks.

There are also some levels that you can achieve in the app. Earning five stars unlocks the Green level. And when you receive 30 stars, you reach the Gold level, which gives you access to:

  • a free drink for every 12 stars;
  • a personalized Gold Card;
  • special offers just for you.

As you can see, Starbucks has done a great job at building customer loyalty. Their customers don’t only drink coffee; they play a game and earn rewards that they can spend on goods.

We should remember that Starbucks is an app with a built-in payment system. By combining payment technology with the reward system, the Starbucks app became the most popular payment system in the US. According to Statista, 25.2 million people used the Starbucks payment system in 2019.

Most popular proximity mobile payment apps Most popular proximity mobile payment apps in the United States as of 2018

What does the coffee app market look like?

Let’s see who the market leaders are among coffee shop apps apart from Starbucks.

Dazbog Coffee

Dazbog Coffee is the app of the Dazbog Coffee chain. The app has similar features to the Starbucks app, including a payment system, shop locator, and loyalty program. The Dazbog Coffee app has some unique features connected with its loyalty program that attract users:

  • A Free drink for every 10 visits
  • Ability to tip a barista via the app


CUPS is another type of coffee shop app. It isn’t the app of some coffee shop company, but rather allows users to find all the nearest local coffee shops to enjoy their favorite drink. The CUPS app has some interesting features:

  • A database of coffee shops with ratings and reviews
  • A shop locator that allows users to see nearby coffee shops
  • Ability to change the measurement system from kilometers to miles

This application makes revenue by partnering with local coffee shops in the United States.

And many others

The market is full of apps similar to the Starbucks app, including apps by Costa Coffee, Kahwa Coffee, and Caribou Coffee. They solve a similar problem and have similar functionality. Most of these applications go unnoticed because of their similarity. This is why you need to find a unique feature to stand out from the crowd. Now let’s see how a coffee shop app like Starbucks works.

How does a coffee app like Starbucks work?

Before diving into developing a coffee shop app, we’ll speak about the main features you need to implement in your coffee application to make it useful, attractive, and competitive.

Payment system

The main feature that makes Starbucks unique is its payment system. This payment system allows Starbucks to receive more revenue than some banks get in deposits. So let’s see how Starbucks has managed this.

Starbucks uses Square payments, which allows users to show two-dimensional barcodes on their devices and scan them at the counter. mFoundry (a provider of SaaS mobile banking solutions for retailers in the US) provided the client-side solution, server-based wallet, and technology in a private cloud that’s implemented in Starbucks’ backend system.

Starbucks has proved that wallet functionality can be simple: the technology burden from the app to the POS (Point of Sale) system and barcode reader. This is needed only to display a custom 2D barcode. Technology even works with Starbucks’ existing POS devices.

How can you implement a payment system in your application? The best way is to use one of the following payment services:

  • Square
  • Stripe
  • PayPal

For businesses like restaurants and shops, it’s better to use Square. Many coffee shop apps work with Square, and they can provide all the necessary equipment for your shop (barcode readers, terminals, etc.).

Read also:

Augmented reality

Starbucks Augmented reality feature

The Starbucks app also contains a feature to entertain customers when they visit a Starbucks shop. The Shanghai Roastery is the first Starbucks to give customers an augmented reality (AR) experience.

You can use AR to involve users in the coffee-making process, teaching them how your shop makes their coffee. This feature allows you to entertain customers while they’re waiting for their drinks.

To implement augmented reality into your application, you can use one of these popular frameworks:

  • Vuforia
  • Wikitude
  • ARKit

But which should you choose? If you’re going to develop an app for iOS, it’s better to use ARKit. It’s absolutely free and can take corner illumination into account to provide clear integration of virtual objects into real life.

For Android development, you can use Vuforia framework. This SDK uses computer vision to recognize and track image targets and 3D objects. You also can use virtual buttons and background effects to make the AR experience more attractive for your customers.

Wikitude is a commercial all-in-one AR framework that works with iOS and Android and allows developers to create 3D objects, use geodata, and implement image recognition.

You can read more about the best AR frameworks in this article: 6 Best Augmented Reality SDKs

Shop Locator

This feature allows users to find nearby coffee shops according to their geolocation. You need this feature to direct users to your shop and transform them into customers. How can you add a shop locator feature to your application? You can use:

  • MapKit for integrating maps
  • CoreLocation for real-time tracking of a user’s geolocation

Now Playing

The Spotify music streaming service has a partnership with Starbucks. Now Playing is a unique feature that allows Starbucks customers to recognize the music playing in Starbucks stores when they’re visiting. Users can then easily add these songs to a Spotify playlist.

To add this feature to your own app, you should start by creating an algorithm to recognize songs. Usually, this is done by creating a spectrogram of an audio sample recorded by the phone and then finding matches in a database of songs. But instead of creating your own algorithm, you can use an API for music recognition:

  • EchoPrint API
  • GraceNote API

The next important thing you should consider is music licensing. Without licensing, your music database is illegal. The best way to solve this problem is to partner with a music streaming service, as Starbucks did with Spotify. It’s best to partner with one of these popular streaming services:

  1. Apple Music
  2. Spotify
  3. SoundCloud
  4. Google Play Music

You may be interested in how to make a music streaming service like Spotify.

How to make a coffee app like Starbucks

coffee app

We’ll now look at the important stages to create a successful coffee application that will meet customers’ demands.

Discovery stage

The discovery stage is needed to make sure all team members understand the project clearly. This stage also allows you to learn more about the app you’re about to develop, including:

  • The problem the app will solve
  • The way it will solve the problem
  • The app’s unique value proposition
  • The market situation and market leaders
  • The target audience
  • Revenue streams

The discovery stage mostly consists of brainstorming and exploration. It prepares you to build an app that will be successful. Without this stage, you can build a great app but it won’t be able to embrace your target audience because you won’t know who your customer is and what they want. Without studying trends and conducting market research, you reduce the chances of your app being relevant, competing with market leaders, and achieving success.

In short, your app will exist in a vacuum if you skip the discovery stage. This stage takes in the neighborhood of 80 hours.

Prototyping and Design

To build an app like Starbucks, you should create prototypes that allow you to see how your app works and looks. You should start with a low-fidelity prototype. A low-fidelity prototype, or navigation concept, shows you all the cause-and-effect relationships between application screens.

The next step you should take is designing the user experience, or UX. The user experience determines how your app works and what the user feels when using your application. A UX design is needed to make a high–fidelity prototype, which is needed for public testing and to receive feedback from your target audience. The final design stage is the user interface or UI. The User Interface is not only about functionality but also about the visual design of your application.

The prototyping and design stage takes around 200 hours. This time can vary according to the scale of the project and the app’s complexity.

You can read more about all the app design stages in this article: Cost to Design an App in 2021

Coffee Shop App Development Process

To build a minimum viable product (MVP) for a coffee app like Starbucks, you’ll need the following features:

  • Registration via email and social networks
  • Personal profiles
  • Settings
  • Personal info
  • Push/email notifications
  • Menu bar
  • List of drinks and other products
  • Favorites
  • Special offers
  • Trending items
  • Customer support
  • Shops near me
  • Payment options

Additionally, you can implement some extra features to create a unique value proposition for customers, for example, you can add:

  • Augmented Reality technology
  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
  • Voice Recognition

voice recognition coffee app

The coffee shop app development stage consists of two main parts:

  1. iOS & Android development
  2. Backend development

Now we’ll estimate the development time for these parts. You should understand that this estimate depends on many factors including technologies used, number of features, app complexity, and number of screens. Here are the average times for developing iOS, Android, and backend parts of a coffee shop app:

  • iOS & Android — 250–320 hours per platform
  • Backend — 350–400 hours

Additionally, don’t forget about quality assurance (QA). Quality assurance is needed to test the application and find bugs so you can fix them. QA takes about 100 hours.

How much does it cost to make an app like Starbucks?

Now we’ll see how much it costs to make a Starbucks-like app. We’ve estimated the time for each stage of development of a coffee shop application (for MVP version):

  • Discovery stage — 80 hours
  • Prototyping & design — 200 hours
  • iOS & Android development — 250–320 hours per platform
  • Backend — 300–400 hours
  • Quality assurance — 100 hours

Finally, what is the total cost to make a coffee app like Starbucks? To answer this question, we should investigate how much you’ll pay per hour depending on where your app development team is located. The following are average hourly rates by region:

  • India — $25
  • South America — $33
  • Eastern Europe — $36
  • Western Europe & UK — $70
  • Australia — $110
  • North America — $170

You may be interested in how to find the best mobile app development company

How much does it cost to make a coffee app like Starbucks? We can conclude that the average cost for a coffee app of middling complexity is from $42,900 to $52,000.

Read also: How to Prioritize MVP Features & What Comes After MVP

Is it rewarding to create a coffee shop app for your business?

As you can see from the example of Starbucks, a great mobile application can help your coffee stores to become more popular. When you gamify purchases, you create more opportunities to interact with customers. More and more coffee shops are making mobile applications, and it’s a great time to enter this market. If you have questions about coffee app development or if you have a brilliant idea to stand out from the crowd, contact us for a consultation.