By: Keith Hunter, Partner, Hunter Palmer   •   email:

I have just seen reports of the most outstanding coffee concept in Milan. Arguably the most extraordinary feature about it is that it’s a Starbucks. You can already hear protests mounting, see the pitchforks being raised and feel a certain sector willing it to fail on its proverbial backside (‘culo’ in Italian).

Apart from those gasping in the apparent attempt to usurp Italy’s beloved national drink – a strong, well-made, reasonably priced expresso – you can also hear the loud eye-rolls of the coffee snobs who renounce all global chains as if they were evil personified. How dare they come with their weak, diluted, coffee-flavoured milkshake … charging everyone double the price for the privilege!

It’s a good job Starbucks came with a plan. They have taken decades to fashion their approach to the Italian market – their 78th nation conquered if you’re counting – and have wisely opted for ‘humility and respect’ in order to capture a share of the six billion expressos consumed there annually.

Keeping in mind the quality and experience that today’s consumers expect, Starbucks have presented their ‘most beautiful store to date’ , boasting handcrafted mosaic floors, heated marble counter tops, a wood oven bakery, a 27 foot bronze cask roaster, an open-air terrace and an affogato station. In this way they have delivered a fully immersive coffee lovers’ experience, allowing all to witness the roasting process whilst they wait for their coffee fix.

Love it or hate it, they have taken the correct route to attempt to win over a whole new market. This could be a masterclass in how to tailor an offer to suit the audience. Their focus has been on identifying the profile of their customer, what would excite them and how to make them feel actively involved in the end product. All wrapped up in an environment that perfectly complements their sensory experience.

Travel Retailers take note. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to creating the right experience for your customers. Taking the above as an example, you cannot underestimate how important it is to fully understand your customer first. Time will tell whether Starbucks have hit exactly the right note for the Italian market, but you must applaud them for trying.

By respecting and embracing cultures and traditions and incorporating them into the most relevant sensory experience, there is every opportunity to create a winning formula. Allowing customers to feel part of the process in an interactive, theatrical setting, provides a thrilling and memorable alternative to the usual stale counter service or online order.

You just need to take a look at the trade press recently to see how many brands and retailers have taken the plunge – building state-of-the-art, pop-up emporiums and permanent experiential zones in a bid to surprise and delight travellers. The hope is that these do not morph into glorified advertising posts, but continue to ensure that they retain the perfect balance of introduction, innovation and interaction.

Peter Marshall

Founder: Arts
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