“Why do I love Starbucks so much?” I mused, wistfully staring into the middle distance on a cloudy day, large cappuccino in hand, open copy of The Economist on the table in front.
Okay, so that didn’t happen.
And it’s not the most ground-breaking admission anyway. And yes, I know in recent times Starbucks have come under fire for their dubious tax policy. And no, I don’t like Starbucks just because they write my name on a cup.
But what is it about Starbucks that means I’d rather schlep there than face Costa, Caffe Nero, and a whole host of other independents?
When Howard Schultz came up with the idea for Starbucks whilst visiting coffee bars in Milan, he believed a coffee shop should be so much more than a place that served coffee. He envisioned Starbucks as being “the third space”- a safe space, away from the office and home, where customers could come and pick up their coffee, but more importantly somewhere they could stay too: a place to engage or rewind, to be active to work but passive to everyone else. It was this conception of the third space that was truly revolutionary; when the majority of Starbucks’ target audience split their time between work or home, Starbucks’ positioning as somewhere else you could go and socialise was powerful. Traditionally the British pub was (and still is) a comparable place: a safe space where you can meet friends and be yourself.
For me, that’s why Starbucks works. It means that no one will rush me out the door once I’ve drunk my coffee; it means that I can work and not be disturbed, or meet a friend and not be hushed. Because that’s the point- everything about Starbucks encourage you to stay for longer: its comfy chairs, funky jazz background music and muted colour scheme all encourage you to pause. And one could be cynical and say that this is so that per person Starbucks can squeeze an extra few pounds out of you, since one person is more likely to make multiple purchases over a prolonged period of time. Yet I don’t think that this would necessarily be the most cost-effective way to boost sales. Adopting a fast-service policy to get more customers through the door would surely be more effective, rather than waste space and money housing a multitude of languishing, bespectacled, Apple Mac-tapping hipsters.
So a coffee addict becomes a tech addict-Starbucks has arguably been at the technological forefront in the coffee industry (and high street at large) too. They offered free wifi, the lifeblood of the 21st century consumer, to customers before the rest of the market did, which was such a simple way to encourage you to stay and loll about. I’m mad about the Starbucks app too, the epitome of London convenience, a battering ram for the anti-cash brigade. For the uninitiated, you download the Starbucks app to your smartphone, pre-load it with cash and pay with it, seamlessly enabling you to collect loyalty stars for free coffee, as well as build up your Starbucks Rewards status for extra freebies.
But I think at its core Starbucks is all about connections- which is why their latest campaign resonates so strongly. Because let’s be honest- coffee is coffee. Despite initially being a bastion of good coffee, the likes of Costa, Caffe Nero and others offer very good (and some better) coffee than Starbucks. And I do frequent them, WHEN I NEED A COFFEE. But if I want a place to go, and stay, then Starbucks it is. Starbucks has seen them all- high octane panicked revision sessions, low octane super-casual non-date coffee dates, no-octane pre-caffeine pit-stops. Starbucks services my need for coffee but delivers so much more.
Plus my name is almost impossible to mis-spell on a coffee cup.