Retail in Asia



2018 has been an extraordinary year for Starbucks with the rapid expansion into China,  the partnership with Alibaba, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai, the opening of the Roastery in Italy, the flagship in Hong Kong, and we could go on and on to list the global development of this brand.

SEE ALSO : Starbucks and Alibaba Group form strategic partnership in China

Among the latest news, Starbucks announced at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco the “Starbucks Greener Stores” framework and a commitment to design, build and operate 10,000 “Greener Stores” globally by 2025. Built on a foundation of the LEED certification program and sustainable operations, the “Starbucks Greener Stores” framework will offer a comprehensive model and broad environmental scope that is universal in design, but most relevant to the retail industry.

“Starbucks Greener Stores” will be characterized by those green pillars:

• ENERGY EFFICIENCY & WATER STEWARDSHIP: Deploying technologies and practices that ultimately deliver 30 percent water savings and 25 percent avoided energy over historic store design practices.

• RENEWABLE ENERGY: Powering stores by 100 percent renewable energy through investments in country-specific solar and wind projects.

• HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT: Designing and operating stores to create a comfortable experience that promotes wellness for partners and customers, including lighting, noise, air quality and temperature.

• RESPONSIBLE MATERIALS: Ensuring materials and products for stores are responsibly and sustainably sourced.

• WASTE DIVERSION: Designing and operating stores to reduce waste.

• ENGAGEMENT: Inspiring a culture of sustainability and empowering partners to take action, be informed, and engage in sustainability issues and practices.

As Starbucks brand has been framed through the feature of a space thought to enable customers to either spend time at the coffee shop or quickly stopping by for an iconic take-away cup of coffee, design plays a key-role in localizing the customer experience by keeping the global brand DNA.

Retail in Asia met Scott Keller, Senior Vice President, Store Development & Design for Starbucks Asia Pacific. He explained about how people and design are the key elements in Starbucks’ development.

RiA : Starbucks is rapidly expanding into Asia. How are you promoting coffee culture and your unique lifestyle in Asia?

Scott : Starbucks has a very unique approach to Asia as the diversity which lies within the area requires the adoption of a localized strategy that still reflects a global image of the brand.

Hong Kong, for example, is characterized by space constraints. Homes tend to be smaller and therefore people don’t often entertain in their own homes in the same way as Western cultures. Our aim when designing a store is for the Starbucks to serve as a ‘Third Place’ for our customers – a place for where people can catch up with friends, go on dates, socialize, study, or work. A third place between work and home.

Starbucks in Asia becomes a place where people create memories, so we, as designers, must keep that in mind while creating a space made for our customers.

This represents an exciting challenge as it is more than simply designing a coffeehouse or a coffee shop. We are building a third place for our customers and striving to offer them a break in their hectic lifestyle – a place to take a moment to brighten their day, a safe space to work and interact.

Pacific Place Hong Kong
Source : Starbucks. Pacific Place Hong Kong. The highlight of the Starbucks store in Hong Kong’s Pacific Place is a dramatic kinetic sculpture that moves slowly in cycles emulating the flow of coffee as it pours into a cup.


RiA : Over the past few years, Starbucks has been opening a lot of doors in Asia. What is the expansion strategy for the next couple of years and is there any focus on a specific market?

Scott : We operate in 16 markets in Asia Pacific. Cambodia was our most recent opening which is very exciting.

Over the next couple of years, we are planning to develop in our markets, by creating stores where we see opportunities to grow into new communities.

Our Asian plan also looks at renovation. As design plays a key role, we want to make sure that our presence across Asia is aligned and yet integrates the cultural values of each location.

We also want to continue growing the number of Reserve Bars we have across the region, which currently amounts to 60. They are well received and offer customers the opportunity to try unique flavors and learn about new coffee.

RiA : You are developing different types of outlets and we know the importance of design when it comes to retail space today. How do you use design to differentiate all Starbucks locations?

Scott : All our stores are different. We provide a unique destination to our customers.

Some stores provide an atmosphere and ambience encouraging customers to stay, relax, and enjoy a nice afternoon coffee, while others are designed to provide a ‘grab and go’ approach, a place where you can quickly grab your morning daily dose of coffee on your way to work.

It all depends on the location. The Hong Kong Flagship store located in Causeway Bay, one of Hong-Kong’s most bustling spots is one of my favorite places to relax.

When I walk into the store, I feel as if I have landed in an oasis. When looking for green spots in Hong-Kong, Causeway Bay was definitely not the first spot that came to mind. Yet, walking into the space, you face a magnificent sight of green vibrant trees. This is highly uncommon in Hong-Kong, making this space an even more precious one. This greatly inspired the design of the store. If you look closely at the store, you’ll notice subtle cues reminding customers of a natural landscape.

For instance, the columns of the store represent the tree trunk and the almost 400 panels represent the foliage of the tree. As you look inside the store, there are some spots where there is light above the ceiling perforations.

The inspiration and reason for these lies in how we want our customers to feel. We want them to feel like they are standing under a canopy of trees with sunlight shining through.

Art work from Macau

Source : Starbucks.  Starbucks collaborated with local artist Eric Fok, to create a series of custom artworks inspired by the iconic Macanese and Portuguese tiles to pay tribute to the rich heritage of the city.


RiA : You are in charge of supervising design in different countries across the region, what do you think are the key concepts to be considered for each market? Is there any striking difference?

Scott : We do not design market by market. We take a more sociological approach when looking at how to best serve our communities.

Our first thought is to be as relevant as possible to the local customer and local community and to then decide what is needed in terms of design choices to support this. We strive to use local art and inspirations to create a familiar and welcoming atmosphere.

For instance, we recently designed a new Reserve Store in Macau, where we thought about what makes Macau unique and how we could connect it to our store.

We found our answer by working with a local Macanese artist who creates beautiful ceramic tiles which we’ve displayed in the store. Taking a closer look at the ceramic tiles, you might notice that they all revolve around coffee. The patterns in the background are a coffee flower motif, the botanical is coffee and the map is a coffee map of the world; sirens are also very present. This addition to the store makes it more interesting and relevant while creating a direct link and connection to the local community.

RiA : You are developing different types of outlet and we know the importance of design when it comes to retail space in general. Could you share with us which one was the most difficult and which project was your favorite?

Scott : My favorite is always the last one that opened and the next one we get to update.

I love how the team finds opportunities in challenges. Take the Siam Square store in Thailand as an example. The store has three floors, which raises the issue of getting people upstairs. When addressing this, our team actually used the stairs as a key artistic feature.

The design and shape of stairs represents the way coffee is made – that is, the way coffee flows downward in a spiral through the portafilter.

You could also see it as the aroma going up and luring people upstairs. It might be subtle, or obvious to some people, but it is definitely a challenge to build such a vast staircase in such a space, while also capturing who we are.

Siam Square Thailand
Source : Starbucks. The Siam Square One store’s focal piece is a wooden staircase designed to beautifully emulate the aroma of coffee.


RiA : Why did you choose Causeway Bay and not another area to have this flagship store in HK?

Scott : The Flagship in Causeway Bay is a premium lifestyle space. However, I do not want to diminish what we offer in other stores.

In the last 4 months, we have renovated stores across HK island including the IFC store which we renovated in February. It is our third time remodeling that store. It has great character and really fits what our IFC customers need.

The IFC store was the first place in HK where we introduced coffee beer in the Reserve Bar. The coffee beer really changed the hours of the store as people are now coming for beers in the evening, as well as coffee in the morning and afternoon.

RiA : F&B concepts in HK are developed based on location available, or alternatively conceived and then adjusted once the location is found.  Is the design team involved when Starbucks is looking for locations?

Scott : This speaks to my role as I look at development and new locations, but I am also responsible for the team that designs the stores.

I do believe that the location gives rise to design opportunities, but at the same time you must think of the design possibilities there are as you look for locations.

RiA : You recently announced Starbucks is a public space, did it have any special impact in Asia which it might not have in the rest of the world?

Scott : We are always committed to creating a place of warmth which is welcoming to everyone. I do not see that changing the way we think about our stores, because it has always been like that.

RiA : When you design Starbuck’s stores, who do you have in mind? Which customers?

Scott : Our stores can have multiple personalities. You typically do not have stores which serve only one purpose and one need, especially in HK.

The IFC store evokes evenings but it is a small space and a very busy place, so it will be very fast-paced during morning and lunch hours. Contrasting with the hectic ambiance it might have during the day, the evening atmosphere is much more pub like as clients can enjoy tapas and grab a drink with their colleagues after work.

The store in Causeway Bay has much more space, and three different bars. The first bar offers a place to have a quick lunch or coffee, and. I believe people will tend to that bar for their typical Starbucks routine. On the other hand, the front Reserve Bar is an inviting space to have conversational coffee.

The third bar is oriented towards tea and clients can enjoy a beautiful demonstration as the Teavana tea preparation holds extensive handcraft knowledge in its preparation, which we are very proud of. We were really excited to bring a new kind of tea experience into the market.

All those different personalities can serve many different intentions and expectations clients might have when coming to Starbucks.

RiA : Recently, we have seen Starbucks engaged in sustainable initiatives, what are your sustainability pillars?

Scott : I am thrilled with our greener stores initiatives.

We have 1500 LEED certified stores, that’s 20% of all LEED certified retail spaces over the world and we are the n°1 retailer in that regard. In other regions, such as Philippines and Thailand, we are the first retailer to have LEED certified buildings.

Nevertheless, there is so much more to do and the team and myself are fully committed to that. We want to continue to pursue working sustainably. I am personally a big fan of our initiative to eliminate plastic straws by 2020.

From a design perspective, we contribute in terms of choice of materials, but also from a more cultural perspective trying to give value and increase awareness about local art.

RiA : As sustainability is not only about environment, but it also related to people. How does this concept relate to your team for example? 

Scott : I believe diversity is of paramount importance.. We have over 60 people in our team from over 20 countries across Asia, Europe and America.
We serve 16 markets and it is the diversity we have in the team that spurs interest and innovation and brings global inspiration.

Our people mostly focus on one market but they often have opportunities across multiple markets or sometimes move to focus on a whole new different market.

Having an environment with so many cultures really helps us to make sure our people have cultural empathy. I cannot imagine it being done differently.

Our company is all about relationships, which is why it is really important for our team to know partners in every market. These relationships help us to have a better sense of the customer’s needs in those markets.

RiA : What are the characteristics you look at when recruiting and what are the initiatives you have to keep talents in Starbucks?

Scott : We have a very low turnover in our team. Starbucks stores used to be designed by the US office. However, our team, which is based in HK, was created 7 years ago and today handles the design of all stores in Asia Pacific. The reason why we created a team in Asia was to have a multicultural team that could reflect our diverse customer pool in Asia.

When looking for someone to join our team, we look for people with a strong cultural understanding and empathy. Starbucks is very different from other types of retail where you are just there for a moment and only focus on a product. Here, you focus on what you have purchased to consume and enjoy but at the same time you are using the space in a very different way that you would use other retailers.

We are looking for talented designers, but at the same time our people must be able to think of something that can connect to the community and customers. They must have the capacity to think of unique ways to bring in artwork which is relevant to the space. There is a real complexity in what we are looking for and I believe probably does not exist elsewhere.

RiA : Any particular reason for the design team to be based in HK?

Scott : Our leadership team is in Hong Kong and I find this city to be a great place to find creative individuals. I think it would be hard to find such a mix of culturally diverse and creative people elsewhere. Hong Kong is five hours away from half the world’s population. People here are more likely to be well traveled.

It is less introverted than any other place in the world which, probably, drives the type of designers we are looking for. We also tend to recruit designers who worked for F&B or hospitality and there is a large community of designers working in that area at the moment.

RiA : Together with design, customer service plays a key-role at Starbucks?

Scott :  Customer experience at the heart of everything we do.

All Starbucks partners, including every one of my designers, is required to do in-store training. It not only supplements their coffee passion, but it is also quite humbling to see firsthand the impact of our design on efficiency and comfort. We can also experience serving and interacting with customers. It is a reminder of the impact of our actions.

SEE ALSO : Starbucks chooses HK for its one of a kind Starbucks Flagship

We are looking forward to hearing more about Starbucks’ expansion. In particular, the development of the Roastery concept around the world, as a strategy to enlarge the target market and engage with coffee connoisseurs.