Starbucks Bets on China with Jack Ma’s New Retail Vision to Offset Slow Global Growth

Written by: Nichakorn Prateepsawangwong on December 14, 2017

Recently in the news, Starbucks opened a new Roastery outlet on Nanjing Road in Shanghai last week begging the question, so what?

There’s nothing surprising about a new Starbucks in China, except this is now the world’s largest one at 30,000 sqm, twice the size of its counterparts in the US and will be the first-ever to incorporate in-store augmented reality (AR), thanks to China’s most influential internet company – Alibaba.

What can consumers do in this store powered by Alibaba’s technology and Mobile Taobao app?

  • Access a detailed map of the floors and menu with Alibaba’s location-based technology
  • Save favorite Starbucks products to their Mobile Taobao account
  • Scan key features around the Roastery to get information on coffee bars, brewing methods via animations
  • Earn a customized photo filter for sharing on social media
  • Ultimately, appeal to the digitally savvy Chinese audience

Sure, China is an attractive market to invest in but what is Starbucks planning with its“most ambitious project ever”?

An augmented reality app is used in the new Starbucks Roastery in Shanghai, China. Photographed on Friday, December 1, 2017. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Slow Growth Around the World

Starbucks second quarterly earnings reported $5.29 billion, short $120 million of the expected $5.41 billion. While the coffee giant has found great success in its 46 years because of its consistent and convenient services and products, the company has felt the squeeze of rising competition from convenience stores and fast-food chains like McDonalds aggressively improving the quality and pricing of its beverages and menu.

And so, to capitalize on a blue ocean, the company decided to focus on a region where coffee culture is only emerging

Revenue from Asia Pacific makes up almost 15% of Starbucks’ annual revenue, a 5.5% increase from five years ago.

It’s obvious to us that the holding power of China for Starbucks is going to be much more significant than the holding power of the US,” — Starbucks’ founder and Chairman Howard Schultz.

As the Chinese economy grows, Starbucks’ success does as well in a country where disposable incomes increase and the younger generation is attracted to quality-driven and unique brands that speak to who they are.

“For coffee, there’s a certain kind of ‘in-the-know’ from consumers who seek out these good boutique shops,” said Jack Chuang, partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants who studied the Chinese coffee market.

Although still predominantly a tea-drinking nation, China is rapidly developing a taste for coffee, an activity previously thought was for the affluent or Westerners.

Jack Ma’s New Retail Vision Reinforced Through Coffee

What does Alibaba get out of it?

It was as recent as Single’s Day when Jack Ma announced the ‘New Retail’ concept that aims to blur the line between conventional brick-and-mortar retail and ecommerce with the help of technology and data.

In the coming years, we anticipate the birth of a re-imagined retail industry driven by the integration of online, offline, logistics and data across a single value chain,” — Jack Ma.

Alibaba’s HEMA Supermarkets already blur the line where consumers can shop for groceries online via the HEMA app and receive them within half an hour, or scan barcodes at the store, pay via the app, and set up delivery.

A shopper can easily scan barcodes in the store and pay for the products through the HEMA app before having them shipped home. Source: Alizila

Partnering with a highly influential brand like Starbucks and providing them with the right technology is Ma’s push for even faster digital adoption..

A survey has shown that 40% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product if they could experience it through AR, and 71% claim that they would shop at a retailer more often if they offered AR.

Seems like Starbucks and Alibaba will be brewing some heavy money in China.

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