Starbucks' Local Experience?

30 Jul 2009|tommy

I love coffee – I’m an avid coffee drinker and used to run a coffeehouse during school. Since relocating to San Francisco about 10 years ago, I’ve been blessed to find lots of great local coffee – and great local coffeeshops. It’s a great urban adventure to explore coffeeshops and see how each reflects the unique neighborhood vibe.

Starbucks, I’m sure, recognizes this. I came across this today – Starbucks new 15th Ave E store in Seattle. The idea is that Starbucks is “going back” to the original character of their Pike Place store. They’ve made an effort to abandon the generic feel of most of their stores in favor of elements that “reflects the local neighborhood character.”

There are a couple of interesting things to note, here.

1. This seems to be based on the idea that the veneer of the environment is important enough to drastically affect the overall experience.

2. Large corporations can effectively balance the expression of a universal brand with local character.

And to these points…

1. When I first saw the photos (@PSFK), I thought the store looked great and interesting. Yet, getting deeper into the photos, I see LOTS of elements that look like the generic Starbucks. And I wonder about the music that’s played over the sound system, the origin of the food that’s sold, etc. How different is the overall experience of the concept store?

2. Can a company like Starbucks effectively balance this local environmental look with local-TASTING coffee? While the experience of the store is the sum of lots of factors, most of us go to coffeeshops for caffeinated drinks. Can a company selling the same product across the world effectively sell that product in a local venue without compromising that local experience?

This gets at questions of authenticity and local empowerment. While I’d like to say I think Starbucks could do this, I confess I’m skeptical. It looks a lot like a new face on an old experience…

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