Howard Shultz, the Founder of Starbucks, the world’s largest cafe chain quipped that a cafe is the third and alternative place after home and workplace. The cafe culture worldwide has grown leaps and bounds over the past 20 years. From a casual date to a formal interview, a break-up announcement to a family & friends gathering, the cafe tables, sofas and chairs have seen it all. Starbucks, which operates over 24,000 cafe points worldwide, which include half of them only in the US, has been the epitome of cafe culture, paving way for 100s of regional cafe chains to pop up all over the globe, each with their own distinct identity, menu and meaning.
On 18 Nov. ‘21, SBUX did something which was not only shocking but also something that was the antithesis of it’s own creation. The cafe chain tied-up with global tech giant Amazon to co-create a “shop-in-shop” of a Starbucks Pick Up & Amazon Go – the staff less, self-checkout store. Only wonder is which concept is within whom.
To enter the “Starbucks Pick Up with Amazon Go” cafe (or store as one may call) which has come up at Manhattan, New York, between Park & Lexington Avenues, customers can use the “In-Store code” in the Amazon App, or tap a credit card and then shop at the Amazon Go store like anywhere else. As the customer puts the items on the shelf in the cart, the items automatically get added in the virtual cart in the connected Amazon App and when removed, get removed from the App as well. A few mins after the customer leaves, the items in the card get billed automatically with the connected card – just like how it happens across other Amazon Go stores. The store here offers fresh pre-prepared sandwiches, salads, bakery items and snack options all day and night as well as Starbucks’ signature fast food items.
On the other hand, the Starbucks cafe offers cubicles for individual seating as well as common tables & chairs with plug points and USB ports. Customers need to place an order for the food and beverages on the Starbucks App and can track the order on a digital screen at the cafe. Once ready, they can pick up and move on – to a table or outside.
“The new Starbucks Pickup with Amazon Go is designed to provide our customers with an experience that delivers convenience and connection in an effortless way,” said Katie Young, senior vice president of global growth and development at Starbucks. “Our goal with this new store concept is to give our customers the ability to choose which experience is right for them as they go through their day, whether it is utilizing the Starbucks and Amazon apps to purchase food and beverages on the go, or deciding to stay in the lounge for the traditional third place experience Starbucks is known for.”
“Amazon Go and Starbucks share a common vision to provide innovative in-store experiences that are centered on the customer,” said Dilip Kumar, vice president of physical retail and technology at Amazon. “Customers have enjoyed the effortless shopping experience enabled by our Just Walk Out technology at Amazon Go where they can simply come in, grab something delicious to eat or drink, and just leave and carry on with their day without having to wait in line to pay. We’re excited to now share Amazon Go’s Just Walk Out Shopping experience and curated assortment of fresh-prepared food items and beverages with even more customers at this Starbucks Pickup location in New York City, and can’t wait to hear how customers like it.”
While the concept sounds something straight out of a 2021 Netflix original, one wonders if this is what the concept of a 20th century cafe was all about, back in Italy where the coffee-shop culture originated. In his own book, Howard has mentioned how he was inspired by small communities in the 1980s Italy, serving and sipping coffee, having short and long banters and most importantly, a camaraderie between the cafe owner, the barista and the customer – all within the neighborhood community. The Industrial Revolution is said to have originated, grown and erupted just exactly two centuries back. 1,000s of start-ups worldwide have been germinated in cafes, all thanks to human to human interactions. This new concept by Starbucks is not just an aberration but also makes one wonder where did all the valuable human interaction vanish, which we seem to have ordained to technology!
Perhaps, one should be happy that the coffee is still sipped through the mouth and smelt through the nose, lest there could be a future technology where the beverage gets absorbed in to one’s blood by just staring through eyeballs. Nothing short of science fiction, this is!