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Coffee Bean exec: Mobile can help mid-size retailers compete with big ones

Eight months ago, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf had only the bare minimum of a mobile presence, but thanks to a concerted effort the brand is making a mobile a central part of its customer experience to compete with bigger coffee brands.

The transformation shows the equalizing force that mobile can present for retailers. While Starbucks and Dunkin? Donuts may have more resources, any mid-size brand can now work on making their customer experience mobile-friendly.

?8 months ago we had an antiquated application and tech that wasn?t working together,? said Mark Levien, digital marketing director at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. ?We brought in a team and built out mobile strategies to rethink the customer experience.?

The Coffee Bean
When marketers discuss which brands are making the most ardent strides in terms of mobile app power and investment, big coffee chains are some of the names near the top of the list.

Dunkin? Donuts has been leading the charge with its mobile ordering options, not to mention Starbucks, which spends around $30 million on its mobile app. 

But these brands are also global corporations with massive amounts of resources to pour into their mobile offerings. Smaller brands ? even ones that are fairly large by themselves but are dwarfed by companies such as Starbucks ? can have trouble competing with the many options available to the larger ones.

But mobile can act as a democratizing force in that regard. Any decently sized business, such as The Coffee Bean, can invest in a mobile app ? and with it, a powerful tool for offering their customers variety in terms of how they order.

?You absolutely have to be in the app space,? Mr. Levien said. ?Everyone is there and we have to be there too.

?But you have to have purpose.?

The Coffee Bean has had a mobile app for a little while, but Mr. Levien characterized the earlier version as lacking direction.

?It was vague and it only did a few basic things,? he said.

Now, the brand has relaunched their mobile app with a renewed sense of direction after spending time speaking directly with customers and feedback.

The equalizer
This mobile revamp was not without its difficulties, however. In focusing on an omnichannel experience that connected the physical experience of entering a Coffee Bean shop and the mobile experience of interacting with the brand required a lot of maneuvering.

?Omnichannel to me means that customers can physically enter a store, make their purchases, earn points through their phone and then carry those points to an online commerce transaction later, or take those points wherever their next interaction with us is,? said Mr. Levien.

While it seems simple on the consumer side, a process like this requires almost 10 different systems ? between payments, customer data, loyalty programs, etc ? all to work together seamlessly.

In this aspect, The Coffee Bean?s smaller size relative to its competitors worked to its advantage, allowing for a smaller team to work cross-functionally and keep all of their systems uniform.

Now, The Coffee Bean?s mobile app is highly personalized, offering a granular experience that is not always possible with the encumbrance of a larger brand.

?We differentiate ourselves by offering our promotions at a singular personal level,? said Mr. Levien. ?If you tell us you?re gluten free, we will never offer you a loyalty promotion or offer something with that in it. 

?It?s totally personalized.?