Zoo Coffee, a 咖啡馆 (pronounced: ka fei guan; meaning: coffee shop) located in Wudaokou, draws in students both Western and Chinese. For Westerners studying in China, a country full of foreign experiences, it is only natural to gravitate toward places that are familiar and comfortable. Zoo Coffee often serves this purpose. For many people, and younger people especially, feelings of normality and acceptance can be very important. This desire to fit in and feel comfortable, however, is not just limited to the west. Chinese people also share this need. These two different groups of people, from literally opposite sides of the world, come together in this cozy coffee shop and feel “normal.” While the exact appeal of this coffee shop may not be the same for these two different demographics, Zoo Coffee has been able to successfully market their business and services to both.
Wudaokou is an area of Beijing, China that is home to eight universities and swarms with college students’ aged 18 to 22.
The blue dot on this map indicates Zoo Coffee’s location. This one screen shot, taken from an iPhone, illustrates that colleges surround Zoo Coffee on all sides. Universities visible on the map include: Tsinghua, Peking University, China University of Geosciences, Beijing Language and Culture University, and China University of Mining and Technology. Having these Universities in the same general area not only congest the streets and sidewalks with Chinese native students, but also with international students from all over the world.
With every turn of an academic year in China comes a greater presence of international students on college campuses. In recent years, studies have shown that the number of international students has been steadily increasing. Click here to see just how drastic this is statistic is. The first graph illustrates China’s growing number of international students from year to year. “In 2010 the total number of international students (including all educational institutions), reached a record high of more than 260,000 according to the Ministry of Education” (“International Students in China’s Universities”). The graph not only expresses an increase in international students by year, but also leads one to believe that this trend will continue on into the future. Below this graph is a second graph that indicates the origins of these international students. Generally speaking, it shows that these students are coming from a wide range of different places, varying from South America to Oceania, etc. Drawing from these graphs, it is reasonable to believe that this greater influx of international students will continue to contribute to Wudaokou’s growing diversity. Taking this reality into consideration, Zoo Coffee works to cater to both of these demographics. Zoo Coffee is located in a truly ideal location and is among places like McDonalds, Chinese fast food places, Burger King, a bakery, and a currency exchange. Right outside of Zoo Coffee, Burger King blasts songs like “Moves like Jagger” by Maroon 5 and “Gangman Style” by Psy. This subsection of Wudaokou radiates both youth and foreign influence.
An undoubtedly attractive aspect of Zoo Coffee is its atmosphere. Zoo Coffee is adorned with wooden tables, couches, cushions with animal print, ceramic decorative giraffes, painted walls with landscapes of cheetahs, zebras, etc. Zoo Coffee’s décor definitely stands out as unique among other restaurants and stores in Wudaokou. Even the sign above the door to this coffee shop stands out; it is apparent that a lot more effort was put into the aesthetics of the sign relative to others near to it.
This video shows the outside of the coffee shop, and conveys the lively atmosphere Zoo Coffee is immersed in. Additionally, as I walk into the coffee shop with my camera, you can see the effort that was put into the general layout of the building as well as the furnishings and knick knacks. When I walk in through the front door, you can see the front counter where you order your food; after ordering food you then receive a sign with a number on it, and take it to the table you choose to sit at. I have described Zoo Coffee’s interior in my field journal as “modern.” I later found out I was definitely not the only one that was using this word to describe Zoo Coffee’s atmosphere. I found people from China, the U.S., Singapore, and France to describe the layout of Zoo Coffee with the same or a similar word. Why do we call these decorations and furnishings modern? I guess because care is given toward the look of the coffee shop, and there is a cohesive theme that is homey and that looks similar to places people may consider more “developed.” This word may also be used, simply because China’s culture has come so extremely far from what it had used to be- a new word is bound to be assigned to this new style. In USA Today, an article was published entitled “Modern Day China Culture.” China is described as a nation with “a fascinating mix of old world tradition and new world fascination” (Cohen). This produces the term and idea people refer to as modern. This The implications for this modern layout and decorations are numerous and significant. Perhaps Zoo Coffee is a symbol of the modernization of China.
All of this hard work the management of zoo coffee has put into the visual appeal of Zoo Coffee has definitely not gone unnoticed or unappreciatated. The atmosphere at Zoo Coffee appeals to both westerners and Chinese people, but for different reasons. Zoo Coffee enhanced their coffee shop environment in a way that was very effective to bring in both of these demographics. Given that Chinese people are in the country they were raised in, they (of course) don’t have those same feelings of vulnerability that so many foreigners experience in China. For this reason, Chinese people are not driven to seek out places that are comforting and “familiar.” Because of this, Chinese’ students’ reasoning for enjoying Zoo Coffee’s atmosphere is inherently different.
李肖迪 (pronounced: Li Xiaodi), a Chinese interviewee, explains that the atmosphere of Zoo Coffee is what keeps her coming back for more. Zoo Coffee’s décor definitely stands out as unique among other restaurants and stores in Wudaokou. “The chairs are very comfortable,” another Chinese Tsinghua students says, “and the cushions and the…giraffes and animals are so adorable” (Voice Recording: 7/28). Among the six Chinese people I questioned about what they thought the best part of zoo coffee was, all of them responded with the same answer: the atmosphere. Some words Chinese people used to describe the atmosphere included clean, cute, cool, and hip. Positive comments were also made regarding the music that is played at Zoo Coffee. I asked a group of three Chinese girls why they thought Zoo Coffee attracted a younger crowd, and why it was very rare for people much older than 30 to go to Zoo Coffee. One girl’s reasoning was Zoo Coffee’s location, and how it is in an area where there are a lot of universities. Another girl explained it was because the atmosphere and music was both lively and young. Perhaps the most interesting answer was from 李肖迪. She believes Zoo Coffee attracts solely young people not just because of it’s convenient location, but also simply because most of the older generation either dislikes or disapproves of Coffee Shops and/or coffee drinking. She went on to explain an interesting division between these two generations. Generally speaking, the young generation does not seem to like to mix and interact with the older generation.
This response was partcularly interesting as it paralleled perfectly with a lot of the arguments the authors made in an academic article entitled “Marketing to China’s youth: A cultural transformation perspective.” According to this academic article published to Science Direct, coffee shops are becoming the most popular hangout for Chinese youths. This is particularly significant, Gong explains, because China is historically a country of devoted tea drinkers. A large portion of this article draws attention to the vast differences between the modern youth and the traditional older generation; these differences not only lay in terms of consumer behavior, but in cultural values as well. China’s youth, in contrast to the older generation, exhibit strong tendencies of individualism and self-reliance. Many Western businesses mistakenly believe it is hard to separate the young from the old in regards to Chinese cultural values. The authors emphasize market segmentation between these two demographics is absolutely critical for a businesses to be as successful as they can in China. I bring this up, because through my research and observation, Zoo Coffee does a great job in successfully segmenting this very different market.
So why market to this new youth? The authors of this article describes this new demographic as “an ever-demanding generation of consumers.” Graphs in this article also indicate that the Chinese youth market actually possesses the greatest growth momentum among various European countries, Japan, the USA, and other countries all over the world. With this said, these new, young consumers are bolder, more individualistic, and more “Westernized.” They are undoubtedly more willing to accept foreign influence and the globalization of China, and in many cases meet this idea with enthusiasm. Zoo Coffee is certainly successful in in appealing to this younger generation, as I have seen people over the age of around 35 in this coffee shop maybe twice. One of these people happened to be my Chinese language partner, who met me at Zoo Coffee simply because I requested. He explained that he thought he was too old for this place; we did not return back to Zoo Coffee the following week as he wanted to meet at another place. The other older person I saw at Zoo Coffee was a Mother sitting with her younger son, appearing to help him do homework. I asked her why she liked coming here, and her answer was something along the lines of “我不喜欢这个地地方， 可是我的孩子很喜欢这个咖啡馆” (Field Journal: 7/29). She said something that alluded to the fact that she does not like coming to this place, and that she merely comes here sometimes because her son likes it. She then said something to the affect that, she was here right now to reward her son on doing well on his math test because this is one of his favorite places. Some may have been lost in translation, as she was speaking fast and didn’t seem too interested in talking to me. I definitely did conclude that she wasn’t all that thrilled to be there.
When I asked my Chinese interviewees if they thought that more places similar to Zoo Coffee would pop up in the future, they all responded with “yes” and “I hope so.” An article entitled “Analysis of the China Coffee Market” indicates that my interviewees responses were very likely to be correct. The growth analysis of coffee consumption in China is growing at a 30% annual rate. This means that coffee shops are more than likely going to continue to pop up and spread far across China to meet this new demand for coffee. Zoo Coffee’s business is among on of the many coffee shops that are addressing this new demand for coffee. What significance do we think this will have on China as a whole, especially coming from a country of devoted tea drinkers?
The video embedded below shows excerpts of the interview I conducted with 李肖迪. She expresses how her parents do not like Zoo Coffee and places similar to it. She provides some reasons as to why this is, but her main one is that the generations seem to want to remain separated and that they don’t want to intermingle. Additionally, she says that she believes that more places like Zoo Coffee will begin to pop up in Beijing.
Zoo Coffee caters to westerners through creating an environment these customers would consider familiar. While the Chinese youth report liking the atmosphere because it is “hip” and “young people all over the world like places like this,” most westerners I have interviewed like the atmosphere of Zoo Coffee simply because it reminds them of home and because they feel like they “belong here.” Looking back at my field journal written a week after I arrived in Beijing, I explain the feelings I felt when I sat down in Zoo Coffee for the first time to study and to do work. I wrote,
“As I sit here, I feel as though I completely blend into the background. I mean this in a good way. I feel as though Zoo Coffee is a mini oasis from the continuous foreign and uneasy feelings I have been continually experiencing in Beijing. I am not a spectacle here. I belong here” (Field Journal: 6/16).
I conducted interviews, and concluded that other foreigners held similar views. With my interview with Shaakeed, an American from St. Louis Missouri, I confirmed what I believed to be true about foreigners who frequent Zoo Coffee. I asked, “So why do you like coming to Zoo Coffee,” Shaakeed let out a laugh, and said “Are you serious? Ha, look at this place. Why wouldn’t I? This place is my getaway from out there” as he gestered for me to look out the window (Field Journal, 7/16). I later learned Shaakeed felt particulalrly vulnerable in China because he does not speak Chinese whatsoever, Zoo Coffee is houses an atmosphere he considers “foreign friendly.” Shakeed came to China to study and to do research on nanotechnology. Another conversation I had with foreigners was with a group of students from Georgia Tech. They explained to me that they are part of an engineering program, where the first half was spent in Singapore, and the second was spent in China. When I asked them, “Which do you like better, Singapore or here?” They all looked surprised for me to ask, and this girl Maddie said, “We miss Singapore! Why do you think we are here [Zoo Coffee]?! (Field Journal 7/21). I asked her to elaborate and she explained that Zoo Coffee reminded her a lot of Singapore, and how Singapore is far more modern and westernized. She used these words interchangeably, and explained that Singapore had tons of these coffee shops. This could only mean that she believes that Zoo Coffee does a fantastic job in mimicking what foreigners deem modern.
Another way Zoo Coffee is a successful coffee shop, is their ability so sell both their drink options and food options. While the atmosphere of Zoo Coffee is appealing to both Westerners and Chinese people, the overall consensus on food showed these different demographics (western and chinese) held different opinions. According to an Irish Studies major, that had just graduated Tsinghua, she thinks the food is for “you.” What she mean by this, is people like me: foreigners. She stated “I do not particularly have affection for the food here. Yea I don’t like it very much. I a lot of times bring in food from other places. I do like coffee here though” (Voice Recording: 7/28). The other two Chinese people I asked that day also explained they did not really like the food here. Of course, I found that surprising being that I happen to find the food here absolutely delicious.
As Adam Siegal said, a week in mid July, “These waffles are better than the waffles I have had at home. Actually, probably the best waffles I have ever had in my life.” People in my Tsinghua program that go to Zoo Coffee mention that the food and the coffee is definitely a motivating factor to go to there. When I asked Adam why he thought Chinese people came here versus foreigners like us, he responded by saying “We come here because the food is good, and because this is what we are used to. Chinese people come here because, well, they tryna be swag.” While this is a silly way of putting it, the meaning behind these words are significant. There is even a Chinese vernacular saying “Yangqi” which means fashionable or trendy, literally translates to foreign style. Chinese young people believe that a lot of this foreign influence, and ways of doing this, are trendy and fashionable.
The management behind Zoo Coffee prides themselves in their customer satisfaction. They have websites in which customers express their like or dislike for it. The service at Zoo Coffee is described positively by both Chinese and Western customers. Fang Jun, a Chinese professor from William and Mary, describes the service at Zoo Coffee as “humane.” Foreigners, such as Kaye Benner, describe the service at Zoo Coffee as one of her favorite things. She explains the service to be “speedy and foreign friendly.” She elaborated by saying that “the waitresses here don’t expect me to speak Chinese, and when I do they are pleasantly surprised and smile at me. Also the service is fast, and are always really polite and professional- something that isn’t always easy to come by in China” (Field Journal: 7/1). The academic article, cited earlier, underscores the importance “embracing consumerism through customer satisfaction.” The articles assert that, in order for a business to successfully cater to china’s evolving culture, and to China’s youth, “[Business owners] need to train employees on the importance of nurturing a customer-oriented corporate culture” (Gong 47).
An example when Zoo Coffee’s customer satisfaction really shined through was when I accidentally shattered one of their glasses which was used for customers to drink water. This was a total accident of course, and I wasn’t sure at all what was going to happen. All eyes were on me, and the second floor of Zoo Coffee fell silent for a while. I immediately jolted out of my chair to pick of the glass pieces with my bare hands so I could clean it up myself. Before I could do an adequate job, and come close to picking up all the glass pieces, a waiter and a waitress rushed over and said 没关系没关系 (pronounced: mei guan xi, mei guan xi; meaning: no problem, no problem). Of course I insisted I help and apologized. The waitress then said, in English, “it is possible you will [get] hurt.” The urgency and understanding they used to deal with this problem was very professional and very friendly. They did not make me pay for the glass that I so clumsily destroyed. Customer satisfaction is becoming increasingly appealing to not only westerners, but to Chinese people as well.
Two different demographics, from two opposite sides of the world, are able to come together to agree that Zoo Coffee is an enjoyable place to be- whether it be to study, to chat with friends over coffee, or to just hang out. Zoo Coffee markets to these different groups by creating a familiar atmosphere for the foreigners, while also having an atmosphere that is “cool” and that makes Chinese young people feel not only different from the older generation but almost “better.” The Chinese youth are often eager to embrace this new coffee shop kind of environment that is a growing and “hip” trend in China. Friendly service, and waitresses that don’t necessarily expect you to speak chinese, is very comforting to your average foreigner, and is something they are usually used to when they are at home. For Chinese people, the service here is refreshing and nice, and a nice break from some of the bad service they are used to dealing with in other places in Beijing. The food is undoubtedly a tactic by Zoo Coffee to pull in westerners, as the food there is primarily food Westerners commonly find at home- such as waffles, or gelato. Zoo Coffee combines their efforts and has a cohesive marketing strategy that is reassuring to foreigners, while making chinese people feel not only like a citizen of china, but a citizen of the world. The blending of these marketing strategies to appeal to both these demographics of youth, creates a very successful dynamic and enables Zoo Coffee to serve as the globalization of China and as a stepping stone for far more Coffee Shops like this to pop up in China.
“Analysis of the China Coffee Market.” Sprcoffee.com. SPRcoffee, n.d. Web. 30 July 2013. <http://www.sprcoffee.com/Market.html>.
Cohen, Gail. “Modern Day China Culture.” Travel Tips. USA Today, n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2013. <http://traveltips.usatoday.com/modern-day-china-culture-17217.html>.
Gong, Wen, Zhan G. Li, and Tiger Li. “Marketing to China’s youth: A cultural transformation perspective.” Business Horizons 47.6 (2004): 41-50.
“International Students in China’s Universities.” US-China Today:. University of Southern California, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 21 July 2013. <http://www.uschina.usc.edu/w_usci/showarticle.aspx?articleID=18104>.