Starbucks China and Alibaba pact will ‘reshape modern retail’

Starbucks China and Alibaba have announced an alliance that stretches way beyond the latter’s online delivery platform Ele.me.

The two companies describe their pact as “a deep, strategic New Retail partnership” that will enable a seamless Starbucks experience and transform the coffee industry in China.

The partnership spans Ele.me, the food delivery platform acquired by Alibaba last month, Hema supermarkets, Tmall, Alipay and Taobao. Pilot delivery services by Starbucks China will start next month with the coffee company opening delivery kitchens to fulfil orders and “co-create an unprecedented virtual Starbucks store”.

Starbucks China CEO Belinda Wong says the partnership with Alibaba breaks the physical and virtual barriers between the home, office, in-store and digital space.

“It will make China the first Starbucks market to deliver a seamless Starbucks experience across all facets of our customers’ lives.”

Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said Starbucks is more than a destination for premium coffee “and we share the same vision to pioneer a new coffee culture and lifestyle through innovation and technology”.

Starbucks Alibaba 1

It starts with Ele.me

Ele.me, China’s largest on-demand food delivery platform with 3 million registered delivery riders, will start delivering Starbucks orders from 150 stores in key trading zones in Beijing and Shanghai next month. By the end of the year, that service is expected to expand to more than 2000 Starbucks stores across 30 Chinese cities.

The two companies have worked together to develop what they describe as “a unique, customised delivery infrastructure” including dedicated delivery riders, precise delivery times, and custom carriers. They believe they will be able to offer “a best-in-class coffee delivery service standard for Chinese customers” which could well be interpreted as a challenge to local startup Luckin Coffee which has grown into a US$1 billion company in less than a year, based on a mixed delivery and in-store model.

Starbucks will partner with Hema supermarkets to open dedicated “Starbucks Delivery Kitchens” within stores. The kitchens will use Hema’s fulfillment and delivery capabilities to complement the delivery of Starbucks beverages offered through existing Starbucks stores. Starbucks will also use Hema’s consumer insights and fulfillment expertise to reach more communities across China.

Data from Hema stores will be used to help plan the location of future Starbucks cafes, combined with delivery kitchens. The first delivery kitchens will open in selected Hema supermarkets in Shanghai and Hangzhou next month.

Digital transformation

Starbucks China and Alibaba say the creation of a ‘virtual Starbucks store’ in China is a key strategic initiative under the partnership.

Alibaba will develop a centralised online management hub, with the capability to integrate and deliver a consistent Starbucks experience across multiple digital platforms. “This innovation will transcend the traditional limitations of a single-app visit by providing the consumer an elevated, and even more personalised Starbucks digital experience across the Starbucks app and Alibaba’s customer-facing mobile apps, including Taobao, Alipay, Tmall and Koubei,” the companies said in a statement.

“This latest innovation will revolutionise the traditional offline-to-online model by effectively extending the reach of the Starbucks experience into the everyday lifestyle ritual of the Chinese consumer, regardless of time or place. Whether it is at home or in the office, within a Starbucks store or online, Starbucks customers will be able to access and enjoy a one-stop Starbucks experience when purchasing merchandise online, buying a Starbucks handcrafted beverage to be delivered to a friend or sending a Starbucks gift of love on the “Say it with Starbucks” social gifting platform.”

Starbucks will progressively integrate its Starbucks Rewards membership platform onto the centralised system to use its consumer insights to deliver a personalised experience to customers.

“Starbucks China and Alibaba are trusted business partners who share common values in the spirit of innovation and the unrelenting pursuit of product and service excellence,” the statement said.

“Thanks to the elevated customer experience delivered by our more than 45,000 partners, Starbucks is growing and innovating faster in China than anywhere else in the world,” said Kevin Johnson, president and CEO at Starbucks Coffee Company. “Our transformational partnership with Alibaba will reshape modern retail, and represents a significant milestone in our efforts to exceed the expectations of Chinese consumers. Starbucks China is one to watch, and I have full confidence in the team that will bring the new innovation behind the Starbucks Experience to life.”

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