Updated: Aug 6, 2019
In stationary retail, one of the most used buzzwords is "experience" because it is the personal customer experience which makes a physical retail store unique and competitive.
Last month in Tokyo I had a coffee at three completely different locations and was reminded once again that a memorable experience can be created in very different ways and scales (and at very different costs...).
These are the three different locations I visited to enjoy a cup of coffee:
The newest Starbucks Reserve Roastery at the Meguro River
Reissue, a small independent café in the hip Harajuku district
Nissan’s Crossing Café in the famous Ginza shopping district
1. Starbucks Reserve Roastery
The largest Starbucks in the world with approx. 3'000 m2 opened in February 2019 and is located in Tokyo's rather relaxed Nakameguro district on the cherry tree-lined bank of the Meguro River. The concept called Reserve Roastery is only the fifth worldwide, after Seattle, Shanghai, Milan and New York. The sixth store will open in Chicago later in 2019.
Starbucks Roastery branches are not comparable to the average Starbucks around the corner, not only because of their massive size.
The heart of every roastery is the gigantic copper casc which covers the roastery facilities. In Tokyo the casc is 17 m high and extends over all 4 floors of the store.
The coffee beans processed here are delivered to Starbucks branches throughout Japan. It is interesting to watch the roasting process and I enjoyed the coffee aroma that filled the whole building.
In Tokyo, Starbucks had the opportunity to build the Reserve Roastery building from the ground up, and you can feel this in every detail. The materials are carefully selected and integrate Japanese architectural and design elements. The mixture of wood and copper and the large windows that bring the Meguro River with its cherry tree lined banks into the building are absolutely eye catching and make up a large part of the total experience.
On the ground floor there is a bakery and the merchandising area next to the coffee bar and the roasting facilities. On the first floor there is a tea bar and on the second floor a bar where alcoholic drinks are served. The real experience comes when you order a cup of coffee or tea, because here you have the choice between countless variations and preparation methods.
Compared to the other four Roasterys, I was particularly impressed by the architecture. Starbucks has created a very special kind of experience with the Reserve Roastery concept. The effort is enormous, presumably the branches are not profitable because of the high investment as such, but that's not what Starbucks is interested in with this concept. It's the brand image from which all about 30’000 stores worldwide benefit, including the average Starbucks around the corner.
2. Reissue café
The special coffee experience of a small café in an inconspicuous side street in Tokyo's trendy Harajuku district required considerably less capital investment than a Starbucks Roastery. The café is located on the first floor above a shop. And yet the café is known worldwide, enjoys great popularity in the social media and is quoted on retail specific websites. How did that work? With a unique 3D Latte Art. The coffee menu offers various flavours and different 3D coffee arts to choose from. You find my choice in the picture below :-). Personalised coffee arts and anime characters are possible too. A completely different approach at a much smaller scale of course than the Starbucks Roastery, but also very instagrammable.
3. Nissan’s Crossing Cafe
I didn't enjoy the third coffee in Tokyo in a stand-alone café, but in a car showroom.
Not in a typical car dealership at an arterial road with other big box stores around, but in Nissan's flagship store in the famous and luxurious Ginza shopping district. In this massive two-level showroom, the japanese car giant presents its vision of the future of mobility. Here you can admire Nissans concept cars or drive Nissans GT-R supercars in a 360-degree VR Racing simulator.
But my interest was not so much in cars (because I'm personally more interested in bicycles), than in the integrated Crossing Cafe on the first floor of the showroom:
Similar to the small Reissuee Café, which has no billion-dollar corporation behind it, Nissan's Crossing café speciality is coffee art. Here, a special 2D printer spreads chocolate powder based on a digital template on the milk foam. There are various Nissan cars to choose from as templates. You can also make a selfie and then after a minute admire yourself on the milk foam. I decided to take a picture of my daughter as the template and then sent her the picture of the result (see below). She was really excited to see herself on the milk foam of a coffee - if she were old enough, she would certainly have posted the picture on Instagram or Facebook. In contrast to Starbucks or Reissuee, the Nissan showroom isn't about coffee, but its own integrated café is a way to create another experience in the showroom and at the same time a very clever marketing strategy, because the pictures of a personalized latte art are perfect to be spread on social media.
Three very different coffees in Tokyo. Completely different locations and retailers with different strategies and integration of the experience.
What impressed me most in each case? Starbucks unique architecture and interior design as well as the presentation and variety of coffee types and preparation methods. Reissuee's creativity and craftsmanship and Nissan's customisation of the coffee. By the way, customisation is another buzzword in the current discussion about the future of stationary retail.
What they all have in common is that it is worth coming to the physical shop for these different experiences. Visitors also post their personal experiences in their social media accounts. Although a café is not directly comparable to a retail store I am convinced that the way of integrating experiences into the physical stores is very much alike. Unique experiences in a physical store depend on store design, product quality, selection and service, creativity, social media compatibility, ("instagrammable experience") and customisation.