Friday, September 28, 2012

Starbucks in France

I've previously written about the counter-intuitive success of MacDo in France. I recently read an interesting New York times article about Starbucks and their lack of success in Europe. Remember that I cited keen market insight as the resason for MacDo's success (not biased!) and that knowing deeply the French eating habits helped them tailor their offer to the French economy? Starbucks, on the other hand, tried to bring 'american coffee habits' to French people. Which is just absurd. The French may not be as crazy as the Italians when it comes to coffee, but they certainly have strong opinions on the subject (quel surprise!).

Cafe Culture is huge in Paris. It's what you dream about as a tourist, sitting in a cafe, people watching, sipping endless espressos and trying to look cool and calm reading a newspaper. Parisians excel at this sport and it requires a few things. 1) A place to sit 2) Cheap, but good espresso 3) things to read (even my 'quick' lunch places has free magazines). Starbucks has been in France for a decade and is seemingly just starting to understand this. Starbucks in the US makes most of it's money from to-go coffee and, in fact, until recently they all but discouraged the cafe hanging out culture. People just do not walk around with a coffee in Paris. Taking a coffee break is sacred business and no matter how rushed, stressed, or busy you are, you sit and you drink the coffee. PERIOD. Changing habits are hard and it's more effort than most companies have time and patience for.

So what is Starbucks doing? They are giving a lot of their outlets a facelift for a sleeker, cool neighborhood feel. They are expanding to have places to sit. They probably should consider re-formulating the 'char' taste (fine-line since Americans didn't like the taste of Starbucks to start either...but then again they were used to shit coffee). And they need to appeal emotionally to the French consumer to differentiate themselves from the bajillion cafes. The only thing differentiating Starbucks from every other cafe is the 'starbucks' experience seen in the movies and TV shows. Starbucks is hip and they need to exploit that. But they need to exploit it while fitting into cultural norms. Perhaps they should hire some ex-mcdonalds market researchers :)

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