Starbucks launches AR experience in Shanghai
The Shanghai Roastery is the first Starbucks in the world to offer an augmented reality experience to customers
Customers standing in front of the roasting cask at the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Asia will see a two-story copper vessel adorned with nearly 3,000 hand-carved traditional Chinese chops or stamps. When they hold up their phones to it, however, new worlds reveal themselves. It's as if they've gone through the looking glass via their phones, peering inside the cask to watch an animated version of newly roasted beans dropping into the cask.
Guests can virtually see them resting before they are whisked through copper pipes to the coffee bars, and they can read about the process a bean goes through on the way to becoming a cup of coffee.
They can have similar experiences all over the roastery, Emily Chang, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Starbucks, China, said in a company press release, "It's like Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka. It's one thing to imagine a fully integrated in-store and digital experience, which brings together the impressive scale of the Shanghai Roastery with the highest quality small-lot coffee beans. It's quite another to watch the AR experience get built and come to life."
The Shanghai Roastery is the first Starbucks in the world to offer an augmented reality experience to customers. Customers, who download the app, get a whole new experience as they point their phones at key features around the roastery. Along the way, customers collect virtual badges and once they've earned all of them, they'll receive a custom Roastery social media filter to share.
"We wanted to create a completely new brand experience for our customers," Chang said. "Because you know, coffee is already such a deeply sensorial experience, even before the first sip: From hearing the unmistakable sound of beans being freshly ground, to inhaling that rich aroma and sipping your perfect blend brewed just right. We wanted to take that customer experience even further.
Visitors who don't download the Roastery app, but who have a QR code reader on their phone, can still have a virtual experience by scanning QR codes embedded around the Roastery that unlock insider information, invisible to the naked eye. Starbucks' scene-recognition software and AR experience is powered through a partnership with Alibaba Holding Group Ltd.
All of it is designed to help customers further understand the story of coffee, from bean to cup, said Roastery Director of Customer Experience Echo Jiang, in the release. "It's coffee as theater," Jiang said.
The roastery fills all the senses, said Jiang, who described customers feeling wrapped in warmth by the rich wood and copper décor. They can watch baristas hand craft beverages through brewing devices never seen and discover an animated hummingbird flying across a wall made of multi-paneled doors — each embedded with thousands of LED lights.
They can also watch Princi bakers (the artisanal food pairing partner at Starbucks Roasteries) bake bread. That's why the digital designers didn't want Roastery visitors to have to be pulled out of the spell to go stand in line to order. Instead, they can order from anywhere in the 30,000-square-foot building.
"We didn't want people to have to queue," said Jiang. "We wanted to enable them to order wherever they want."
Customers can look at the menu on the app, or point their phones at one of the icons hanging from the ceiling at various bars at the Roastery to see the menu unfold. Then, once they've explored, they can talk with one of the roaming baristas on the floor who will help them create and place an order exactly to their liking. The customer can pay on the spot and be digitally notified when their order is ready, along with the location where they can pick it up.
And, if visitors want to understand more about the particular way their coffee is being brewed by a barista, all they have to do is point their phone at one of the icons that hang from the ceiling, such as the symbol of a Chemex brewing method, to enter a virtual world and see the method demonstrated right on their screen.
"With AR, we are able to go beyond educating, enabling and engaging, to empowering our customers to experience the space on their own terms," said Chang.
Taking the magic home
For those who want to take a deeper dive into experiencing the Roastery and coffee, visitors can purchase curated tours of the building, book a coffee tasting journey and more at the online Starbucks Roastery store, available on Alibaba's Tmall platform. There, customers can purchase a special tasting menu online, then bring it into the store to indulge in that unique experience. Or while in the store, they can buy the selected Roastery merchandise or whole beans they fell in love with, to be delivered directly to their homes.
"Customers can extend the experience even after leaving the store," said Jiang, standing near a display of newly roasted coffee beans. "They can bring the Starbucks Roastery home with them, to continue enjoying and even share the experience with others."
Chang said she loves to watch Roastery visitors' jaws drop as they explore the AR experience.
"It's that unfiltered wonder, which overcomes even the most jaded, that really defines 'customer delight,' " she said. "That's how we define our job — to bring wonder to our visitors, by delighting and engaging them."