Starbucks has just unveiled its latest weapon in the battle for market share in the UK’s highly competitive coffee shop scene.
The Reserve bar is intended to be a cut above the usual outlets that crowd London’s streets, with a strong emphasis on offering a superior and relaxed experience for coffee connoisseurs.
Situated near to Leicester Square, the store’s main selling points are a fully digital ordering system, wireless phone charging, unique coffee blends and brewing methods, and a range of food options. And it even sells beer and wine.
Think of it as the coffee shop version of pressing the nuclear button.
It’s modelled on an existing Reserve flagship store in Seattle, but it’s much smaller and easier to replicate if (and when) it proves to be a success.
So here’s a quick look at what it offers, and for more on this topic check out our report on Digital Retail: Trends, Opportunities and Challenges.
So much tech…
From our point of view the most interesting aspect of the Reserve store is the digital ordering system and other tech upgrades.
Customers will be welcomed by a ‘coffee master’, who will explain how everything works and take orders on a tablet.
Payment can be taken using the Starbucks app, and customers can also avoid speaking to anyone altogether by using the new mobile click-and-collect system that launched a few weeks ago.
The store also offers wireless phone charging and what I’m assured is the fastest Wi-Fi on the high street.
Starbucks obviously isn’t the first high street brand to create a digitally-enhanced concept store.
In the past we’ve looked at how 18 retailers in Central London are integrating digital in-store, and also investigated what concept stores mean for customer experience.
And for a full overview of the topic, read our post on how retailers use digital technology to enhance the customer experience.
The overall experience
While it’s possible to pop in and grab a breakfast tea or have a spot of lunch, much of the in-store experience caters to London’s coffee obsessives.
In this way Starbucks is investing heavily in both the customer experience and in its own reputation as an authentic, premium coffee brand. Got to tempt those hipsters back somehow.
The PR blurb describes ‘arena-style seating designed to display industry-leading brewing methods: the Clover, Black Eagle, Syphon, Chemex and Pour Over’.
To laymen, including me, that means a coffee bar where the staff can show off the various convoluted ways of making an espresso.
And though coffee porn really isn’t my cup of tea, I was very impressed by the skill, enthusiasm and charm displayed by Liz, one of the baristas Starbucks has specially recruited for the concept store.
One of them was recently crowned as Starbuck’s most talented barista in all of EMEA.
Will it be a success?
Well, yes, of course it will. It’s an upmarket coffee shop situated right next to The Ivy in the heart of London’s theatre district. Apparently the first genuine customer was ex-England captain Rio Ferdinand.
Of more interest is the length of time it takes for Starbucks to open additional Reserve bars.
I believe there’s only one of these stores in the US, but if the model proves to be a success then presumably more will spring up around London and across Europe.
In order to maintain the air of exclusivity and the relaxed customer experience the stores won’t be popping up on every street corner, but Reserve bars wouldn’t look out of place in London’s swankier neighbourhoods.