Starbucks’ first in-store Augmented Reality Experience

In case you were wondering which brands used new technologies like Augmented Reality in the past, here is a success story of one of the most-known brands in the entire world. In December 2017 Starbucks launched its first in-store AR experience in Shanghai, China. Customers had to stand in front of the roasting cask at the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Asia and they would see a staggeringly beautiful, two-story copper vessel adorned with nearly 3,000 hand-carved traditional Chinese chops or stamps.

The Shanghai Roastery was the first Starbucks in the world to offer an Augmented Reality experience to customers. Everyone could download the Roastery app when they enter the building. Visitors who did not download the Roastery app were given a QR to scan. When they point their phones at key features around the Roastery, such as the cask, new information was shown, as a digital tour guide. Along the way, customers were able to collect virtual badges, and once they’d earned all of them, they would receive a custom Roastery social media filter to share.

The experience wanted customers to fill as if they’d gone Through The Looking Glass, via a phone camera. People were able to watch an animated version of newly roasted beans dropping into the cask. They could virtually see them resting before they are whisked through copper pipes to the coffee bars, they also could read about the process a bean goes through on the way to becoming a cup of coffee. What’s more, the experience was exhibited all over the Roastery.

“It’s like Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka,” said Emily Chang, at the time the senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Starbucks, China. “It’s one thing to imagine a fully integrated in-store and digital experience, which brings together the impressive scale of the Shanghai Roastery with the highest quality small-lot coffee beans. It’s quite another to watch the AR experience get built, and come to life.”

“We wanted to create a completely new brand experience for our customers,” said Chang. “Because you know, coffee is already such a deeply sensorial experience, even before the first sip: from hearing the unmistakable sound of beans being freshly ground to inhaling that rich aroma and sipping your perfect blend, brewed just right. We wanted to take that customer experience even further.”

For a warmer experience, the Roastery was decorated with rich wood. Customers could watch baristas handcraft beverages through brewing devices and discover an animated hummingbird flying across a wall made of multipaneled doors, each embedded with thousands of LED lights. Also, there were bakers who would bake bread and other delights. But the most important thing was the rich smell of coffee.

In order to see the menu, customers used the app, or point their phones at one of the icons hanging from the ceiling at various bars at the Roastery. Then, once they’ve explored, they can talk with one of the roaming baristas on the floor who helped them create and place an order exactly to their liking.

“With AR, we are able to go beyond educating, enabling, and engaging, to empowering our customers to experience the space on their own terms,” said Chang.