McDonald’s McCafe espresso beverages are tremendous. Easily an equal to basic Starbucks, more mainstream than indy coffee houses. (No surprise.) The experience, however, undercuts the product for two reasons: competency and mixed-mission.
My first McCafe visit: The counter person needed help to figure out how to ring it up. Then, went searching for someone who knew how to work the machine. (read: push the buttons) In the end, they couldn’t deliver. I walked out with money in my pocket and no coffee in my hand.
Second visit: The McBarista approached the machine as if it were charged with static electricity. Not a real confidence booster for the customer. She ultimately asked someone to make sure she was doing it right. Points for being conscientious. However, both asked, “you don’t want any flavor in it?” as if I were requesting a Big Mac without a bun. Nope. “I want a latte that tastes like coffee.” They shrugged and went to work vending it. Points off for making me feel stupid.
Third at bat: Entering a store near my home, I was delighted to see a McCafe machine present. When trying to order one, I was told, “no one here has been trained how to run it.” That’s twice I’ve been turned away.
The casual user might not return at this point. But, I’m intrepid in my desire to drink in the experience. This morning, I stopped on the way to work to get a McLatte. What I got instead was a wait: I the line wrapped around the building. I looked over at the vacant indy coffee drive-up. Guess who won.
Therein lies the rub in a mixed-mission: are you burgers and shakes, or are you lattes and capuccinno?
There is a way to make it work using strengths McDonald’s is already known for.
Align the experience
Starbucks chief exec Howard Schultz asserts that people won’t say “meet you at Dunkin Donuts.” Poppycock. There’s potential for a sort of retro hip to going somewhere other than Starbucks. Contrarians who made Starbucks hip may see fertile grounds of differentiation in swimming to the golden arches for coffee–if the experience is good. The experience is key because that’s what Starbucks is really selling.
Delay due to a mixed mission might seem benign, but puts customers off–even thought they may not consciously know why. During every visit, I stood in line behind people staring up at a menu that never changes trying to decide what to order. I timed it once and spent three minutes in line and another three waiting for the drink. While Starbucks isn’t fast, there’s a clearer sense of mission. McDonald’s is asking me to change behavior, but not making it easy.
I agree with Schultz that price is not going to be the game changer for the same reason consumers buy a Lexus ES instead of a Camry. They gladly pay significantly more than a similarly appointed Toyota would cost–and they’re the same car.
Sell who you are fully
Starbucks has a cafe cachet. McDonald’s has one too. But, they’re not playing to it. We all have deep roots of emotional attachment with the golden arches. Appealing to customers on a retro basis seems a better bet: espresso, the happy meal for adults.
The our-drink-is-cheaper only lends credence to Starbucks’ premium position and cements McDonald’s as the “cheap place.” Attacking Starbucks positioning asks loyal customers to admit they’ve been had and should feel stupid for doing so. That approach didn’t work so well for John McCain. Won’t for McD’s either.
Fighting on price will not work; it assumes a commodity perception that does not exist. The espresso-drinking customer would rather buy fewer premium cups to save money before getting more cheap ones to maintain volume. Coffee has become an affinity purchase. Commoditization flies in the face of why people flock to Starbucks, et. al. McDonald’s coffee drinks are cheaper; but, it is a secondary benefit—not a first pitch.
Mickey D’s better pitch
A better point of vulnerability is speed. Starbucks is slow. Painfully slow at times. You can watch seasons change waiting in line. On the other hand, quick service is right up there with fries at McDonalds. What if speed of service (an accurate delivery) were a reliable product benefit at McCafe?
What if, when I make a coffee only order in the drive-thru, I’m directed to pull ahead to where my drink would be brought out instead of having to wait behind five child-laden SUV’s getting custom-order Happy Meals, etc.
From the beginning, Schultz maintained Starbucks would not vend hot food. The smells and service delays would interfere with the purity of a coffee experience. He’s given in on that point to now serve hot sandwiches and salads. Who says McDonald’s can’t up their fast-serve game since the coffee experience itself is already comparable. Just sayin’.