It's Like Having a Barista at Home (Sort of)

Starbucks Creates a Site to Help Consumers Find Their Favorite Blends

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NEW YORK ( -- Starbucks is trying to replicate the store experience -- for consumers in their own homes.

The chain's new microsite,, offers a kind of virtual barista who helps demystify the chain's myriad blends. "What the online experience does is mimic the experience [consumers] would have in the store, if they went to the barista and said, 'I want to try Starbucks, but I don't know where to start,'" said Wendy Pinero, VP-global consumer products group at the coffee chain. "The majority of consumers still have not necessarily realized the different tastes you can get."

Consumer decision making
The site, which represents a new online focus for Starbucks' at-home business, puts buying decisions squarely in consumers' hands, encouraging new and lapsed customers to experiment with new flavors. Visitors are able to determine their personal flavor profiles with the help of a five-question quiz, and they can request free samples before committing to a purchase.

"We want to make people understand that if you tried one [blend] and you didn't like it, it wasn't the right blend for you," said Ms. Pinero. "That doesn't mean the whole brand isn't right for you."

The launch coincides with a slew of new initiatives under CEO Howard Schultz. Still, the coffee giant, like many in the food-service industry, is suffering from the slow economy and decreased traffic, last week cutting its second-quarter earnings guidance.

"In times like this, anything that the company can do to build brand equity with their customers is a good thing," said R.J. Jones, a senior research analyst with Ragen MacKenzie, a division of Wells Fargo. "Even though the package [coffee] business is a smaller part of the company, it's definitely a profitable part of the company, and any way they can grow that is good."

Starbucks' global consumer package-goods division recorded revenue of $366.3 million in fiscal 2007, up 20% over fiscal 2006. Executives declined to comment specifically on the impact the site could have on sales.

Gaining traction
Traffic figures for the site are not yet available, though requests for samples indicate that it is gaining traction with consumers. The company said 13,000 samples were requested in the first two weeks the site was live. "When somebody is in a supermarket, they don't have a lot of time to sit there and ponder and look at all the different blends," Ms. PiƱero said. "Online, people do engage a bit more."

DraftFCB created the site and accompanying ads, which mimic the chalkboards found in Starbucks retail locations. A "Barista Gallery" featuring chalkboard artwork also is included on the site. Ads from DraftFCB touting the site have been trickling out during the past few weeks, both online and in print. But Ms. Pinero concedes the company hasn't gotten around to doing much PR for the initiative, given the intense focus surrounding this month's launch of Pike Place Roast. "We've been slightly busy," she said.

Ms. Pinero also said the chalkboard theme will be parroted across the company. "Over time, what you're going to be seeing is, visually, a more consistent ... voice from Starbucks in all of these different business units," she said. "But [the] message [will be] tailored to each of the business needs and talk to the slightly different targets that are coming into our franchise."
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