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John Tan

How to blend in-store, digital, and AR marketing for a better customer experience: Lessons from the Shanghai Starbucks Reserve Roastery

Disney has Disneyland, Willy Wonka has his chocolate factory and Starbucks has its Reserve Roastery. Over the Christmas period, I had the opportunity to visit the newly opened Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai for a much needed coffee break.

Coffee wonderland

Proclaimed as a “coffee wonderland”, the Shanghai Roastery is the world’s largest Starbucks outlet, boasting 2,700 sq metres (30,000 sq ft) of coffee goodness. It is “the first fully immersive coffee experience in Asia”, including an integrated offline and online augmented reality (AR) for a truly multi-sensory experience like no other. Stepping into the doors of the building, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, surrounded by stimulus at every corner. Staring at me was a glorious two-story copper cask, with over 1,000 traditional Chinese stamps, hand-engraved to narrate the story of Starbucks and coffee. I could feel caffeine flowing in my veins, before I even tasted my first drop of coffee for the morning.

I took my time to get a full tour of the place, afraid to miss out on any attractions. The Roastery features the longest Starbucks coffee bar in the world, including a food-coffee pairing bar, a 27-meter long bar for their “Cold Brew Towers”, a 3-D printed tea bar featuring its specially-crafted teas, Princi–a renowned artisanal baker, tasting rooms, a retail merchandise area with exclusive Starbucks memorabilia and more.

Throughout the store, customers are able to uncover more information through a customised app by simply pointing their mobile devices at key features around the Roastery to bring to life the Starbucks coffee journey. To help customers create their personal journeys, the Roastery web-app platform also incorporates a digital menu and shares details of the coffee bars, brewing methods etc. At each step, customers unlock a virtual badge and receive a custom Roastery filter upon completion to commemorate the moment and share on social media.

This experience also extends to Alibaba’s online marketplace, Tmall, allowing customers to purchase exclusive Shanghai Roastery memorabilia and whole bean coffee for delivery directly to their homes, or to register for specially curated coffee tasting experiences.

Best of both worlds: A 360 experience

As technology advances, it may seem like an endless tug-of-war between brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce. However, this need not be a zero sum game.

Starbucks has seamlessly integrated an in-store and online customer experience, marrying the best of both worlds. While technology allows customers to customize and visualize different possibilities at the click of a mouse, we still yearn for a personal experience that engages our primary senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.

While most businesses do not have the luxury of the resources and financial strength of Starbucks to tap on, perhaps what we can learn or at least think about is how to better integrate in-store and digital experience for an immersive experience for customers. Be it through smaller scale sampling stations with an option to purchase online, branded walls to tell your brand story or simple games and activities to engage your customers, let’s think of the value that we can bring to customers and not just the sale that we can make. Build a story, create an experience and people will be drawn to you like a hot cup of coffee on a cold winter day.