Alibaba Tech Underpins World’s Most-Interactive Starbucks

Starbucks is opening its biggest and most interactive location to date, in Shanghai, with help from Chinese technology giant Alibaba Group.

The two-story, 30,000-square-foot Shanghai Roastery will be the company’s second roastery after Seattle, with small-lot Reserve coffee sourced from around the globe, including China’s Yunnan province, prepared for sale and onsite consumption.

The Shanghai Roastery will also be the first of Starbucks’ 27,000 locations worldwide, and the first of its kind in China, to seamlessly integrate a real-time, in-store and online customer experience, powered by Alibaba’s Mobile Taobao app and the company’s augmented-reality (AR) technology.

 

WATCH: Take a tour of the biggest and most-interactive Starbucks in the world.

 

 

“The affinity we have built with our partners [employees] and customers over the past 18 years in China is special, and we knew we must bring the Reserve Roastery, our boldest, most-premium store ever, to Shanghai,” said Howard Schultz, executive chairman of Starbucks Coffee Company, in a statement.

The interactivity starts as soon as customers walk through the door, with Alibaba’s location-based technology allowing Mobile Taobao to recognize when an app user arrives. Customers will see a special webpage offering them a detailed map of both floors, menus of the different coffees and teas available, the ability to save favorite Starbucks products to their account and other informational features.

By turning on Mobile Taobao’s AR function, customers will be able to scan key features around the Roastery and get details about the coffee bars, brewing methods and roasting process via fun visuals and animations as they tour the store. The more they engage with the Roastery, the more badges they collect, earning them a custom Roastery-themed photo filter for sharing on social media.

The digital experience was designed by Starbucks, and is underpinned by Alibaba Group’s technology. The Hangzhou-based company previously has used AR to reach and deepen engagement with consumers, most notably during its 11.11 Global Shopping Festival. The initiative is part of a larger push by Alibaba centered on what it calls New Retail, which is a merger of online and offline commerce and the complete digitization of the latter in order to fully modernize its services.

Among the offline features that make the Shanghai Roastery stand out are:

  • a Princi bakery, which is a partnership with artisan baker Rocco Princi – whose breads and related dishes are the exclusive food offering in all Starbucks Roastery locations
  • three different coffee bars, one of which, at 88 feet, is the longest of any Starbucks coffee bar in the world
  • a 3-D-printed tea bar, which serves as the first Starbucks-branded Teavana bar in China

The centerpiece of the store, however, is the two-story copper cask that holds the finished coffee after it has been roasted. The cask features more than a thousand traditional Chinese chops, or stamps, hand-engraved to narrate the story of Starbucks and coffee. Similarly, the ceiling is made of 10,000 handmade wooden hexagon-shaped tiles, inspired by the locking of an espresso shot on an espresso machine.

China is Starbucks’ fastest-growing market, according to the company, noting it currently has 3,000 stores in 136 cities—600 in Shanghai alone. The new Shanghai Roastery officially opens on Dec. 6.