Experience Design

Customer Perspective: Some Do Prefer Blondes

For years, Starbucks has served only dark roast coffee drinks, implying that the dark roast was a better roast and appealed to everybody.

I’ve previously written about a very interesting TED talk where Malcolm Gladwell discusses the trend toward understanding customer preferences instead of relying on one absolute “best” product.  Gladwell actually mentions coffee at about the 16:40 mark in his speech. As it turns out, Starbucks has recently taken that same perspective to heart as well. Having realized that, 1. some people do not prefer dark roast coffees and, 2. those people were exchanging their currency for lighter roasts elsewhere, Starbucks has recently expanded its lineup to include blonde roasts as well.
Starbucks as a company has made changes from its personal preference before. Starbucks stores were originally intended to mimic the experience of the Italian coffee bar. As it turns out, some of the customs that Starbucks sought to capture were not well received in the United States.

  1. Italian coffee bars generally serve only very small espresso-based drinks and do not offer a drip coffee, but that product line didn’t match the tastes of domestic consumers so Starbucks altered its product lineup to accommodate local preferences.
  2. As a result of the small servings, Italian coffee bars typically do not have any seating available – drinks are meant to be taken quickly. If you look at any Starbucks now, the appeal of the seating, wifi, music and atmosphere almost rivals the coffee itself.

This certainly isn’t Starbucks’ first adaptation to local tastes and, hopefully for consumers, it won’t be the last. Sometimes shifting to accommodate an under-served market can be much more valuable than a marginal improvement to a firm’s base.

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