In what has been an extremely active month for Starbucks, it has won a great deal of attention in the general retail world by launching the first of ‘thousands’ of coffee vending machines in the UK. The move has generally been seen as a response, if perhaps a slightly delayed one, to Costa’s recent work in rapidly expanding its Costa Express self-serve machines.
As in the Costa example, the Starbucks machines are not ‘vending’ machines in the fullest sense, in that they do not accept coins – the customer selects the drink, and then goes to a counter or checkout to pay for it.
Four Sainsbury’s stores were selected as the launch sites, and said that their plan would be to install machines at sites such as petrol stations and other Sainsbury’s stores. Costa, of course, has been in sites such as motorway service areas ever since it bought and rebranded the Coffee Nation operation, has 900 machines in place, and has spoken of plans to reach 3,000 by the end of next year.
The new Starbucks project is named ‘Starbucks On The Go’, and brand’s marketing chief has said that he wants to give customers the opportunity to get Starbucks coffee, wherever they are, adding that “it is a response to a clear need – the most common thing I hear from customers is that they want a Starbucks closer by.”
The machines are said to offer 280 different varieties, if one brings into consideration size and additions such as flavoured syrup, and to deliver a drink in less than a minute. Starbucks have made that claim of speed whilst also saying that its designers have tried to make the machines ‘more fun than the average vending machine’, by giving them attractive graphics and a touchscreen interface that allows customers to play a game while waiting for their coffee.
In another announcement, Starbucks said that it has plans to take on a thousand new apprentices over the next two years, 700 of them in the greater London area – and to promote the announcement, took London’s mayor Boris Johnson into a store, gave him a green apron to wear, and supposedly taught him how to make coffee. However, as one of the pictures of the event clearly shows Starbucks’ top man Howard Schulz pouring Boris a coffee from a cafetiere, they seem not to have let him loose on anything complicated.
Over the other side of the world, Starbucks opened its first ‘pop-up’ coffee shop, in Tokyo. The chain already has nearly a thousand stores across Japan and has the highest annual sales of any coffee business in the country. They opened up Starbucks Espresso Journey in a temporary rented space as a kind of brand-reinforcement exercise… or, in the super phrase of one of the designers, ‘to give people a small exclamation-mark moment’.
There was only a limited menu, which included two more unusual drinks – the ‘Double Short Classic Latte’ and the ‘Double Short Classic Cappuccino’, which were described in the international press as ‘both with a little more espresso and a little more sugar than their regular counterparts’.
For a brand which has built an entire reputation on its ordering mechanism, Starbucks then surprised everyone by coming up with a new idea. The otherwise sparsely-decorated retail space has walls lined with bookshelves. Each ‘book’ is a cover with the name of a drink written on the spine, and customers pick the one they want, present it at the cashpoint, and keep it as a souvenir.
Another promotional idea was that the first customers to arrive each day were given the opportunity of a brief barista-training session.