Cool beans at Starbucks Shanghai

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Let’s be honest: Starbucks gets a bit of a bad rap. Once the pinnacle of cool American culture, it’s now oft-cited as the epitome of corporate deviance, with a product that’s deemed average by aficionados. So, it was with a dose of scepticism that we visited The Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai.

Opened in December 2017 and billed as, ‘a theatrical, experiential shrine to coffee passion.’ this is the world’s largest Starbucks, at 30,000 square feet, and has a lot to live up to.
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It has its own roasting facility, and first impressions are reminiscent of an amusement park crossed with a scene from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. The giant roasting machines process batches of unique small-lot Reserve coffee, which is sourced from 30 different countries worldwide. The beans are then pumped through copper pipes suspended from the ceiling to Starbucks’ many coffee bars, or packed up and sent to online customers across China. Meanwhile, staff in white uniforms busy themselves with the machines, and the dynamic station-style boards display the currently-roasting blend, while tourists queue up to snap the whole process with a sense of childlike awe.

It’s pure retail theatre and it works.

The Roastery also harnesses some great new AR technology (designed by Starbucks and Alibaba Group) making it one of the most advanced digital locations for the brand, in the world. The technology helps customers personalise their experience with a digital web-app platform that also incorporates a digital menu, and can share information about the coffee bars and brewing methods, as well as unique experiences on and offline. At each stage of the journey, customers can unlock virtual badges which, once all collected, can be traded for a custom filter to share on social media.
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So what about the actual product? From the reserve coffee to nitro draft lines, alcoholic drinks and new tea blends, The Roastery has it all. There are three wooden coffee bars including Starbucks’ longest ever, at 27m. The bars act as a kind of stage where hundreds of baristas handcraft the coffee using one of six brewing methods: ModBar Pour Over, Chemex, Coffee Press, Siphon, Espresso and the proprietary Clover-brewed coffee.

We opted for a Coffee Flight which promised the same bean brewed three different ways. And we have to report that it was good. Very good.

We sipped it down with a cake but we could have chosen anything from the high-end menu of savoury and sweets – the menu has been designed by acclaimed artisan baker Rocco Princi and is crafted by his team of more than 30 skilled bakers and chefs.

In true cultural style, we exited through the gift shop laden with branded and unbranded coffee accessories, hessian sacks and bags. After picking up a couple of gifts we left feeling buzzy and excitable, and not just because of the caffeine. Starbucks has excelled itself with this truly groundbreaking retail experience, and we duly doff our branded gift-shop caps.

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Amazon thinks about what you’re having for dinner before you do

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For the last five or so years, we’ve been hearing a lot about Amazon’s plans to integrate ‘anticipatory shipping’ into its supply chain. But what exactly is anticipatory shipping, and how does it work?

First off, anticipatory shipping is not the same as Subscribe and Save, where Amazon customers can schedule a recurring delivery of their most commonly needed items. Anticipatory shipping requires no specific input from the customer.

It works like this. Amazon uses its immeasurably vast and constantly growing treasure trove of data to predict what customers are likely to order. Once the algorithms are confident enough in their prediction, the product is shipped to a distribution hub closer to the customer so that if they do order the product, it arrives more quickly. Built into this system is the risk of the algorithms being wrong, and the consequent wasted shipping costs. So far so good, and it makes perfect sense for items like printer cartridges, toothpaste and cat food – but what about fresh food?

Fresh food can’t just sit in the warehouse forever – even if it’s refrigerated – so when the algorithms get it wrong and people don’t order exactly as expected, Amazon is going to have to find a way to sell that fresh food before it starts to become not so fresh.

Enter Amazon’s pricing algorithms. Unlike its competitors, Amazon’s prices don’t just update a few times a day. They update, on average, every ten minutes. So when the algorithms get it wrong and you opt for chicken instead of beef, they’ll instantly start dropping the price on that tasty piece of eye fillet they were expecting you to order so that someone snaps it up and it doesn’t go to waste.

This is different to a traditional supermarket reducing the price of items that are nearing their use-by date in a few ways.

First, the algorithms will outperform any human department manager in pricing items for a quick sale, so less fresh food will be wasted.  

Second, no Amazon staff member needs to walk around with a roll of ‘Priced reduced’ stickers.

Third, because the fresh food is available for sale the minute it arrives at the distribution centre, i.e. it doesn’t need to be unpacked off a delivery truck and repacked into a display bunk before customers are aware of its existence, Amazon has more time to sell a given item than a traditional supermarket.

What’s next?

We recently stumbled across a hilarious satirical article about Amazon’s next big move, “lifetime anticipatory shipping”. The way it works, writes the satirist with their tongue firmly in their cheek, is that Amazon will predict everything that customers could need for the entire rest of their lives and simply send it straight to them – after automatically debiting their bank account for the purchase. It’s a funny concept, but is it really so ridiculous?  

Of course, sending customers everything they’re going to need for the rest of their lives is silly, but it’s not so hard to imagine a cross between this and Subscribe and Save.

After all there are plenty of subscription box retailers who send customers curated selections of the products they predict their customers will love. If the customer doesn’t love what’s been selected for them, they can generally send it back.

The difference between these subscription boxes and Subscribe and Save is that with the latter, customers know exactly what they’re getting. With subscription boxes, it’s often a lucky dip…except with food. With the majority of recipe box services, like HelloFresh, Marley Spoon and Gousto, customers select their recipes weekly, so they know exactly what they’re going to be cooking throughout the week.

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Once Amazon enters the recipe box market – and you can bet it will – it will be able to combine anticipatory shipping with Subscribe and Save in a whole new way. With a few tweaks from the customer (e.g. allergies, foods they dislike, etc) Amazon could send weekly or bi-weekly food deliveries, further negating the need to go supermarket shopping. And the food could be a seasonally-based surprise that also takes Amazon’s stock levels into consideration, meaning delicious fresh food and lower costs for Amazon.  

The logical next step would be for Amazon to start sending (and charging you for) other things it predicts you might need. For example, if your weekly Amazon box included all the ingredients for a sticky pork recipe, it might also include scourer pads (that you hadn’t specifically ordered). It could be a little frustrating being charged for something you didn’t order, but where is the line between convenience and choice? Customers would probably be quite quick to forgive the presumptuousness in light of the added convenience. 

Once that starts happening, the idea of ‘lifetime anticipatory shipping’ will seem less like a dystopian nightmare and more like an inevitability.  

Of course, there’s nothing stopping Amazon’s fresh-food competitors from using exactly the same method in their online offerings. In fact, supermarkets with an established fresh food delivery network are at an advantage as they already have the necessary infrastructure in place. But they just don’t have the same range as Amazon across other categories – which is why Amazon’s ongoing expansion into fresh food continues to be so alarming.

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Whippet gazes at a sweet retro moon in Shanghai

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Whippet recently took a quick trip to Shanghai, and one little gem we spotted was this small-format version of one of the city’s favourite bakeries. We have to confess we had no idea what the store was selling when we first walked past, but we were intrigued by the window display of a vintage bicycle accompanied by old school tube TVs and hanging birdcage shades.

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Upon entering the store, we were none the wiser as to what was on offer (mostly due to our pathetic grasp of the local language). But we investigated further, and closely inspected the many rows of identical tins before noticing a small table with an open one on display.

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Inside were commemorative sets of mooncakes, a Chinese speciality eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival which happened to be taking place during our visit. Suddenly it all made sense! Mooncakes are small round pastries, usually filled with a thick red bean or lotus paste, and are traditionally given as gifts during the festival – which explained the specially designed tins.

According to a gorgeous wall graphic, these individually decorated mooncakes were celebrating historic technological innovations made in Shanghai, including sewing machines, cameras, bicycles and watches.

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As the festival only lasts a short time, we assumed that the store was a pop-up for the duration only, and might subsequently return to a standard bakery format. Whatever its longevity, we gave it a big Whippet thumbs up for its wonderful juxtaposition of intrigue, originality and design. Maybe the magic was enhanced by our initial ignorance, but there was no doubting it tickled our creative tastebuds. Bravo Ichido!

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Retail assistance: a smiling face in the age of automation

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If you’ve been to Japan, China or Korea in the last decade, you’ve likely come across a restaurant with a tablet-at-the-table ordering system. If not, you can probably already guess how it works. You arrive at the restaurant, are shown to your table by a waiter or maître d’, and then order at your leisure using the tablet sitting on your table.

A waiter will bring you your food and drinks, clear any glasses and plates you’ve finished with, and then once you’re done you settle up on the way out (or pay using the tablet on your table depending on the restaurant). It’s fantastically fast and efficient. Certainly, the system doesn’t allow for quite as much rapport to be built between the dining party and a dedicated host, but many diners would prefer to avoid too much awkward small talk with an overly-enthusiastic waiter anyway.

Similarly, walk into any McDonalds these days and you’re likely to find several large touchscreens from which you can order and pay for your gluttonous guilty pleasures. Again, fast and efficient.

As more and more job functions become automated – and businesses require fewer staff to operate – how does the overall store experience change for customers and, importantly, for staff?

From a customer’s perspective, this automation is usually positive as it means getting what you want faster. It can sometimes be frustrating if something goes awry, but as long as there’s a staff member nearby to rectify the problem (and there almost always is), no harm no foul.

For staff, however, it can be trickier. Take a supermarket for example. The team member whose job it is to help customers having trouble with the self-service checkout knows that as the system matures and customers become more adept at using it, their tenure becomes ever more tenuous. 

For a checkout assistant doing things old-school, they’re patently aware that just metres away a row of robots is helping customers perform the exact same job as they are – and they too know their days scanning and bagging items are likely to be numbered. But do they even want to be performing tasks they know can be just as effectively performed by a robot?

David Graeber’s much-circulated 2013 essay on ‘bullshit jobs’ deals with 9-5 workers with ridiculous roles, like the secretary whose job exists just to make their boss look busy enough to warrant a secretary. This, he contends, can be deeply harmful to one’s sense of self-worth. “The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound” writes Graeber, because these people know their job isn’t really helping anyone.

But what about workers whose job actually does help people, but can also be performed equally well by a robot, like our checkout assistant? Surely this isn’t as damaging to their sense of self-worth, but it’s certainly not going to help, either. So how can they add more value to customers, and simultaneously enjoy their jobs more?

One way is for their roles to expand to include things that automated systems can’t yet do. For example, carrying groceries to customers’ cars, replenishing stock, general cleaning or even providing in-store samples of high-margin items, like international cheeses or cosmetics. Couple this with emerging technology like that at Amazon’s checkout-free ‘Go’ stores, and you’d have a situation where assistants are actually of assistance rather than just acting as cash-collecting gatekeepers.

Like how the waiters the restaurants mentioned above can all smile, deliver food, pour wine and clear tables better than robots can (for now), if retail staff can play to their human strengths by providing genuine value to customers – in the form of extra service or expertise – surely that’s better for everyone. It makes financial sense, too. By providing a superior shopping experience, bricks and mortar businesses can continue to fight the good fight against the ever-present threat of online stores swallowing up their market share. 

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Whippet shortlisted for the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Design Awards

Wednesday 12th September saw Whippets (L-R) Tod O’Reilly (Executive Creative Director), Steve Stoner (Founder), Pete Forbes (Senior Designer) and Kate Watts (Designer) in attendance to celebrate the outstanding local work on display at the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Design Awards. 

Our big congratulations go to Museums Victoria for taking out the top prize in the Communication Design category, and to the International Indigenous Design Charter for not only winning the main prize of the evening – the Premier’s Design Award of the Year – but also getting the gong in Design Strategy. Two very worthy winners. 

Kit Haselden Photography

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