10.042011

starbucks 3.0 – a retail experience

(This is the second in a mini-series of reviews of retail concepts that have caught my eye.  Yesterday I introduced 77kids in Times Square, today it’s Starbucks in Seattle, and tomorrow will review one last example of what makes a store more than a store – a real experience.)

If it seems like there’s a Starbucks on every corner, it’s because there is – well, almost.  As of July 3, 2011, the chain boasted 17,018 stores.  The company seems to have fulfilled Coca-Cola’s famed goal of being “within arm’s reach of desire.” They’re everywhere!

The consistency throughout its system that’s fueled Starbucks’ success holds the risk of producing an experience that seems mass-produced and generic.  And yet, the brand is managing to feel more local and personal these days.

Case in point: two locations I visited in Seattle.

From the moment I approached the Olive Way store, I knew the place was special.  Featuring eye-catching architecture and a very different layout, this location felt more like a hipster loft than a local coffee shop.

Perhaps it was the sign advertising a beer instead of a coffee!

Applying the chain’s success with an expanded menu and alcohol in its “learning lab” stores (15th Avenue Coffee and Tea and Roy Street Coffee and Tea), this Starbucks was built for afternoon and evening hangouts.  It featured signage that explained the local focus of its wine selection, and a fireplace mantel that gave it a comfortable feel.

The centerpiece of the store was the combination coffee/bar area.

Its open design with little counter space to separate customers from baristas made the ordering and beverage preparation process seem more intimate.

And the bar set-up with the beer taps and bar stool-height chairs conveyed a Cheers-type casualness that encouraged lingerers.

The location at Pike’s Place Market had a similar sense of character and warmth, despite being smack in the middle of the city’s biggest tourist attraction.


Signs touting merchandise and coffee exclusive to its location gave the store a strong local feel.

Who knew signage about wi-fi could feel so personal?!

Although both places were huge (2-3 times the size of most Starbucks), they managed to feel intimate and comfortable.  And, above all, the employees at both locations engaged customers warmly.

Seattle is the birthplace of the chain, so it’s no wonder that concept stores like these are first introduced there.  But from what I understand, the plan is to roll this more personal and local flavor of the brand into select locations systemwide.  Starbucks, please consider this post my personal plea to do so in San Diego!

(If you’re looking for an injection of fresh thinking, sign your team up for a Brand Experience Day.  We’ll head out into the field to experience concepts like these, and then regroup to identify and apply the new insights to your business.  Learn more.)

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