6 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2010

See all articles by Brandt R. Allen

Brandt R. Allen

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business


This case explores information systems (IS) and technology as key to retail success. In 1982, Starbucks creates an alternative to the corner tavern or pub and experiences incredible success. By the mid-1990s, it is the epitome of the successful rapid-rollout retail business. Information systems (IS) plays a major role in Starbucks's overall operations, and planning staffs are able to spend months studying income, education, and coffee-buying habits of target customers at potential sites. This case also includes Mrs. Fields' Cookies as an example of perhaps the greatest source of ideas for retail automation. Its PC-based store system provides daily forecasts, point-of-sale data, and selling tips, and handles crew scheduling and payroll, just to name a few of the truly beneficial features IS and technology can provide.




“Three decaf skim latte triple-shot grandees and a half-and-half Americano tall,” barked the expediter to the barista on a busy morning at a Starbucks. Four more empty paper cups were added to the cup line on the bar, placed just so, signifying a cappuccino, a caffe mocha, or perhaps a decaf drink (cup upside down). Espresso coffees, Starbucks's trademark beverage, were brewed one at a time—“load, lock, and go”—while the customer watched, all in less than 30 seconds. There was reverent talk of some baristas pulling 150 espressos an hour; each one a masterpiece. If they were not placed in the customer's hands in less than 10 seconds, they were thrown away and a new cup was brewed. Obviously, Starbucks was doing something right because there always seemed to be a line of thirsty customers no matter how many coffee bars were built. Sometimes it seemed a Starbucks was on every street corner in Seattle; indeed, sometimes more than one was on the same corner. Some people took to calling the city “Latte Land.”

Starting with the first store in 1986, Starbucks had grown to over 400 outlets by 1994, and was poised to expand at the rate of 200 stores a year and by acquisition—and even hoped to move into Europe and Asia. The company had been a big user of information systems and technology from the start, which had enabled the rapid rollout of new stores. Now the question was what to do next, particularly in the stores themselves. Perhaps Starbucks could learn from the experiences of the pioneer who led the retail use of expert systems: Debbie Fields.

. . .

Keywords: service operations, management of

Suggested Citation

Allen, Brandt R., Starbucks. Darden Case No. UVA-IT-0012. Available at SSRN:

Brandt R. Allen (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States
434-924 -4842 (Phone)


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