Howard Schultz throws down; Starbucks corporate confirms authenticity. At issue: does experience design scale?
Much of the first couple of paras of that statement could pass for anyone talking about any designed experience that’s outgrown it’s earliest stages. Remove “Starbucks” and the complaints about the cumulative effect of incremental correct decisions diluting the experience are common. Whole Foods is the first thing that comes to mind; at competitor-crushing scale, they’re arguably an even more debased version of what they once were.
It’s impressive that a CEO really gets it, though: the height of the espresso machine, the importance of aroma and sound, and the diminishing role of customer education (“some stores don’t have French presses from Bodum [for sale]”). These are great observations.
It’s going to be real interesting watching what comes next, no? Identifying the problems is a huge first step, but what’s missing is any sort of solution. If in a years time every Starbucks has piped in bean smells, shorter superautomatic machines and a Bodum branded counter then the result is pretty much a failure. If all those La Marzoccas start to re-emerge in some new upscale brand of shops filled with fresh beans and educated barista’s it’ll be a bit of a break even. And if Starbucks somehow manages to turn itself around into a third wave coffee shop, well he’ll actually have succeed, but what are the odds of that?
The smell issue is a particularly fascinating one, as the sealed bean issue is the only problem Shultz ids that is not Starbucks expansion specific but also shared with those people who still make good coffee. The wonderful coffee aroma is actually the smell of beans going stale, of goodness of the bean breaking down and dispersing into the air. Starbucks are starting to smell like some particular juncture of airport and public bathroom, but even the best coffee shops don’t particularly smell like coffee anymore…
Yeah, it was that he understood the critical impact of things like being customers able to see, hear and smell coffee being ground that really impressed me.
Of course, Howard is a member of that same freakish clade Steve Jobs belongs to, superhumanly able to toggle between local and global, tactical and strategic, micro and macro reads. It’s reassuring to see someone in business gets how tightly coupled these things can be.
Excellent points as well, Abe.
Have you seen the new cranberry-and-dove-grey, overstuffed look Starbucks has rolled out to a few prime locations, BTW? It struck me as profoundly retrograde, and a pretty hamfisted move, but it’s always possible I was missing something.
he understood the critical impact of things like being customers able to see, hear and smell coffee being ground that really impressed me.
Too bad their coffee sucks, then.
I mean, if it were really all about the coffee, they wouldn’t sell over-roasted (nay, scorched) crap that smells like used motor oil. They’re fine for tea. Or if you want a candy bar masquerading as a beverage. And they’re pleasant environments to rent for an hour or so (after all, Starbucks is in the real estate business, not the coffee business.) But there are myriad other places to get a better cup of joe.
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Adam Greenfield's Speedbird
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