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Starbucks will reopen 85 percent of its coffee shops, but with new protocols

Cars lined up in the drive-thru of a Starbucks in Robinson Township, Pa., on Wednesday, May 6.
Cars lined up in the drive-thru of a Starbucks in Robinson Township, Pa., on Wednesday, May 6.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Starbucks plans to reopen 85 percent of its US coffee shops by the end of this week, with an emphasis on mobile ordering, contactless pickup and cashless payments, as more cities and states ease lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company’s mobile app — which is already used by roughly 20 million customers — will include new options for voice ordering and curbside pickup, chief executive Kevin Johnson wrote in a letter to customers on Monday.

Starbucks shares spiked more than 4.1 percent Tuesday on the news.

"We will also shift toward more cashless experiences, knowing that the handling of cash creates consumer concerns about the spread of viruses," Johnson said, adding that he expects the company's mobile app to become the dominant form of payment.

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The new protocols, he said, will be a natural fit for Starbucks, where more than 80 percent of U.S. orders were placed "on the go" via drive-through or mobile app, even before the pandemic. The company is also applying the lessons it has learned in China, where more than 98 percent of its stores have reopened, and is ramping up investments in artificial intelligence that will help make "data-driven decisions" about store reopenings and other changes."

We are putting immense emphasis on the safest and most convenient way for customers to order their favorites from Starbucks," he said. "As we gradually come out of isolation, people will crave the connection and community that are fundamental to humanity."

The Seattle-based coffee chain temporarily shuttered about half of its 8,000 company-owned U.S. stores in late March and is among the first national chains to announce reopening plans. Health officials have warned that reopening the economy too soon could lead to a spike in covid-19 deaths. More than 1.2 million Americans have already tested positive for the virus, and nearly 70,000 have died.

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Other national chains are gradually announcing plans to resume operations. Macy’s reopened dozens of department stores on Monday.