“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.




On hearing the news that TFL may sell off the names of some stations to corporations, I wondered what a tube map covered in brands would look like. I’ve put together this tube map (positioning as far as possible brands which seem appropriate to the locations they would be taking over!) and would love to hear your thoughts on whether you think I’ve got it right. Is Burberry an appropriate sponsor for Knightsbridge? Is Google the Euston of brands?





And what kind of tube experience would you expect from Harley Davidson? Jack Daniels? Samsung? Would you prefer having a station sponsored by Aston Martin on your doorstep or one by Marks & Spencer?

(Originally posted on The Value Engineers blog on November 19th 2013)




The integration of technology into the retail space is an increasingly compelling prospect. Although some retailers fear that sales in their stores are being lost to their digital equivalents, others are beginning to appreciate that e-commerce need not be a threat. By welcoming e-commerce channels as an asset, along with other digital concepts, brands should able to enhance their overall offering.

Luxury fashion retailer Burberry has been at the forefront of the digital retail charge, and is clearly reaping the benefits. Perhaps a huge complement to Burberry’s digital strength came last year, when it announced their CEO, Angela Ahrendts, was leaving the company to become senior vice president for retail and online stores at Apple. Regardless of the products they sell, all retailers must have an appreciation for digital, and serve customers who are increasingly adept at shopping online. Ahrendts has noted that her digital strategy for Burberry has been informed by Apple, who she identifies as a business contemporary in some cases more closely than typical peers Gucci and Chanel: “If I look to any company as a model, it’s Apple,” she said. “They’re a brilliant design company working to create a lifestyle, and that’s the way I see us.”

Burberry is a case study in combining digital and offline to create a profitable model. The brand has nearly 15m Facebook ‘likes’ and 1.5m Twitter followers, yet their digital engagement amounts to so much more. Not only have Burberry moved into the digital space, but they have also moved the digital space in store, introducing a whole host of interactive digital concepts which subtly and intuitively enhance the customer experience. Notable successes have been the live streaming of their catwalk shows, which enabled customers to buy what they see; the social media site The Art of the Trench, which enables customers to submit pictures of themselves in their Burberry trench-coats, and connect with other trench-coat lovers, as well as their use of RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology, which is particularly inspiring. A chip placed into each product triggers RFID-enabled mirrors in changing rooms to transform into digital screens, displaying information about the craft and detail of the garment being tried on. This gives customers the added bonus of more product information in a fantastically intuitive way.

These digital concepts work with, not against their stores and general offline offering. They enhance the customer experience in store by appreciating how their customers shop and want to interact with the Burberry brand. Having an appreciation for e-commerce and utilising it effectively to increase revenue is not a new trend, but integrating digital with a light touch to improve the customer experience seems increasingly prevalent in the marketplace, especially as the wider population are becoming increasingly tech-savvy and unafraid to interact with brands online. Ironically, such a tactic could well preserve the high street and enhance the shopping experience. It is certainly an exciting direction for retail to be heading.

(Originally posted in The Value Engineers blog October 18th 2013)