As we mentioned in our first blog post, international market communication extends beyond advertising; it also encompasses tactics like branding and packaging. A company can bolster the effectiveness of these tactics by following a process that includes cultural research, perception assessment, and subsequent standardization or adaptation.
Starbucks adopted this process in order to improve the profitability of its stores in Paris. The first Starbucks store in France opened in 2004, on Paris’s famed Avenue de l’Opéra. Experts predicted that Starbucks would be a triumph in France, for smaller bistros and cafés had been closing at rapid rates, and comparable coffeehouses had already experienced palpable success in the region. As such, Starbucks did not implement major operational adjustments when it opened in Paris; indeed, its French stores were initially described as nearly identical to its American stores.
This standardization strategy backfired, however, as the popularity and profitability of the French stores proved to be lower than anticipated. Parisian Marion Bayod declared, “I never go into Starbucks; it’s impersonal, the coffee is mediocre, and it’s expensive.” Fellow Parisian Laurent Pauzié echoed Bayod’s sentiments and added that Starbucks stores existed merely “to comfort tourists when they’re lost.”
Owing to these negative consumer opinions, Starbucks set out to ameliorate its approach in Paris. It conducted thorough research on the general French palate and discovered that a light espresso is more suitable for French customers than a strong coffee is. Further, Starbucks learned that French consumers prefer to sit and drink their coffee, rather than simply grab their coffee and go. As a result, its French stores began offering a mild, so-called “blonde” espresso, and packaged this espresso in glass cups instead of paper cups. Moreover, Starbucks revamped the entire aesthetic of its French stores to more closely resemble the atmosphere of a traditional Parisian café. It achieved this by constructing lavish wooden bars, installing bright chandeliers, and inserting sumptuous velvet couches.
These adaptations sparked updated advertising campaigns that enhanced Starbucks’s branding in France and attracted French consumers. Yet at the same time, these adaptations necessitated excessive resources. As Chuck Williams remarks, “spending tens of millions more to” keep adapting Starbucks’s “stores to French tastes may also sacrifice the cost effectiveness and productivity that make” the organization “profitable in the United States” (160). It should be noted, though, that as the largest coffeehouse chain on the planet, Starbucks will likely continue accruing ample resources to sustain its impressive capacity for adaptation.
Engelhart, K. (2013, January 25). Starbucks go home: plans for new Paris location spark uproar. Maclean’s. https://www.macleans.ca/news/world/starbucks-go-home/.
Rebours, L. (2004, January 15). Mon Dieu! France finally gets a Starbucks. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna3966548.
Williams, C. (2017). Principles of Management. Cengage Learning.