The Adaptability of Starbucks


In order to provide the reader with a full understanding of the ideas and analysis presented within this post, a brief description of the data I gathered at my field sites (Starbucks located near ZhongGuanCun and WuDaoKou ) is fundamental.  My first step is to accurately describe my interviews and observations. Through discussing these different elements, my major aim is to then determine why the Chinese demographic has such an appeal to Starbucks.

First and foremost, the interviews I conducted provide the most convincing and valuable evidence as to why Starbucks popularity has grown exponentially in China. During my last blog post, I had only collected 1 brief interview. Now, after conducting more interviews and obtaining a relatively larger insight into the minds of several Chinese individuals, the reasons behind Starbucks’ appeal becomes increasingly clearer. In particular,  one interview stood out among the rest; an interview with a Chinese student attending Tsinghua University.

The interview with the Tsinghua student changed many of my pre-existing notions about Starbucks. When I first began this research project, I assumed that Starbucks was a place of leisure, however her statements completely contradict this idea. She mentioned how she “comes to Starbucks because it’s somewhere to do her work – the library is too quiet”. Evidently, the attraction of Starbucks cannot simply be so one-sided, credited to only leisure. It’s safe to assume that because of the wide variety of people who go to Starbucks, it’s obvious that each individual has their own specific reasons as to why they find such an attraction to it.

It must also be noted that Starbucks exists in different locations all over the city and country.  One reason why I think the Starbucks in Wudaokou (where I interviewed Mengqing- the Tsinghua student) contains so many people who work rather than take part in leisure activities inside, is because of the scholarly environment it’s located in – the surrounding area around the Starbucks has over three prominent universities (Beida, Tsinghua, Chinese Cultural Institute), thus Starbucks can be an ideal place to work but in a more relaxed and comfortable manner. Juxtaposing the environment of this Starbucks with the Starbucks located in Zhongguancun, there’s an obvious difference in reasons for coming and spending time in the shop. From my interview last time, the woman was focused entirely on the atmosphere and how it’s grand and relaxing – which fits with what she was doing (pleasure reading and relaxing for fun). This area is predominantly a shopping area, thus emphasizing the idea that the environment and certain types of people mold the purpose of the shop.

In addition to interviews, I’ve found several other interesting facts about Starbucks. After conducting independent research online, I found several articles  which specifically highlighted one of Starbucks’ unique tactics when dealing with China. In order to boost local appeal, a wide variety of Chinese teas and snacks are sold within Starbucks – for example green tea flavored beverages. Once again this hints at the shop being able to mold itself to the desires of the local populace.

Here’s a picture of the typical American Starbucks menu


American Starbucks menu


While this is a picture of the localized Chinese Starbucks menu


Chinese Starbucks menu


The difference between the two is quite evident – the Chinese menu being more localized and having a wide variety of teas. Thus, Starbucks emits a more familiar vibe to the Chinese people, allowing customers to stay within their comfort zone and not force them to conform to American coffee culture.


During my previous blog post I mentioned several themes which persisted within the Starbucks environment. In light of all the new information I’ve collected, I still believe leisure to play a major role in why Starbucks has become such an attractive spot for the Chinese people however it’s not the only factor which comes into play. Although not blatant, the fact that Starbucks has Wi-Fi is monumental for those who partake in leisure activities within the shop – simply because the vast majority of customers nowadays use the internet as a part of their relaxation. Thus, technology becomes a prevalent theme.

One recent addition to the list of themes is “work”, relating to either school work, professional work, or just working on anything personal. This is reflected by the Starbucks located in Wudaokou, and the interviews I conducted there – many of the individuals claimed that it was a good environment to get work done simply because of the available space and accessible internet.

However, more than anything else, the willingness to adapt seems to be a theme which contributes towards Starbucks’ growing popularity. The CEO of Starbucks explained this tactic and its impact on the Chinese markets – rather than force an environment and set menu upon the Chinese people, allow it to be malleable and cater to local taste.

Because the Starbucks corporation is willing and able to adapt its menu, and environment in a manner which satisfies the majority of consumers, Chinese people can access a wide assortment of Chinese and American products. That is to say, there is always a Western influence simply because of the predominance of American posters, items, and coffee culture within the store, but yet this interesting setup where local tastes are incorporated into Starbucks allows for a multicultural mix between the two. To me, this unique environment seems to encapsulate all the different themes, and explains why the Chinese people have such an attraction to the store – Western coffee culture, local drinks Chinese drinks, Western atmosphere, Wi-Fi and an environment which they can use to their liking.