Here’s how Starbucks, long a master of delivering carefully-modulated retail experiences, is upping its game: by creating one-off stores that have highly individuated concepts and design that seem perfectly situated in their contexts — whether a sumptuous “coffee car” on high-speed Swiss railtrains or a Japanese store that summons the serenity and esthetic of a temple to mind.
What’s the reasoning? As the article explains, “the intense customization of stores is actually an ongoing effort to make the Starbucks brand a little less brand-y.” It’s part of embracing localization in search of authenticity, to make the Starbucks experience more of a piece with the places and cultures where its consumers live and work.
The irony is obvious: a massively successful multinational turns to boutiquing, to delivering a sense of definite place, to deliver a more embracing experience for consumers…after decades of having leveraged the efficiencies of standardization and systemization to dominate or drive out truly local competitors.
Starbucks’ initiative isn’t in response to any downturn in business; in fact, it’s hardly the most cost-efficient strategy they could have taken. But they deserve credit for being sensitive to their customers’ impressions about the brand, and for getting out in front of an issue before they’re behind the curve, instead of in front of it. It’s the kind of approach that consumers interpret as attentiveness and service — and that’s the real elixir at the heart of good retail, isn’t it?