Lots of people were sceptical when Starbucks announced its plan to enter the Chinese market years ago. Starbucks would flop because China is a nation of tea-, not coffee-drinkers, so the reasoning went. 14 years on, nobody is laughing. Shaun Rein writes on CNBC:
Instead of trying to force onto the market the same products that work in the U.S., such as whip cream-covered frozen coffee concoctions, Starbucks developed flavors, such as green tea-flavored coffee drinks, that appeal to local tastes. Rather than pushing take-out orders, which account for the majority of American sales, Starbucks adapted to local consumer wants and promoted dine-in service.
By offering comfortable environments in a market where few restaurants had air conditioning in the late 1990s, Starbucks become a defacto meeting place for executives as well as for the gathering of friends. In other words, Starbucks adapted its business model specifically for the Chinese, rather than trying to transplant everything that worked in America into China, as so many brands such as Best Buy and Home Depot have done. Such approaches often proved shortsighted and ill-fated.
Starbucks offset the relative lack of revenue in China’s outlets by positioning the company and its products as aspirational purchases. The average coffee sold in China is far more expensive than in the U.S. Carrying a Starbucks cup is seen as a status symbol, a way to demonstrate sophistication and the capability to afford a personal luxury for the up-and-coming middle class in China.