What does the Italian market demand?

[caption id="attachment_81973" align="alignnone" width=""]REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn [/caption]

Manuela Scognamiglio Manuela Scognamiglio

After analyzing the characteristics that Starbucks wants their consumers to view them as having, the next issue is to see whether they are shared by the Italian consumers. In order to ascertain that, we interviewed 40 people actually living in Italy and questioned them on two main points. First of all, they rated each association in order to align with their personal tastes, to what they look for when they enter in a café. The question asked was, “for each of the 7 points developed above, how important is each particular aspect to you (from 1 to 10)?”. Then, in order to understand how many and whether people were actually satisfied by Starbucks, we asked them to rate, again, for each of the 7 points, “how much are they actually satisfied by the service provided by the American company”. The objective was to find out the discrepancies between what consumers want and what Starbucks offers them; in other words, see if gaps exist to understand where Starbucks should invest in.

Looking at the table and graph, the most relevant gaps found are the ones concerning the working space and quality oriented characteristics of the cafés. The concept of “café as a working space” is considered to have a low importance (3.35). Instead, quality is given an 8.95 level of importance, with a 3.35 level of actual satisfaction.

As far as the working space is concerned, Starbucks is known to provide environment to work. It is a calm place and has plenty of tables where people can sit. It offers facilities such as the Wi-Fi connection and the absence of table service makes it a more suitable surrounding to read, study or work. However, as we can see from the discrepancy in the averages, the typical Italian profile does not look for a place to sit and stay for a lot of time, but rather for a bar where he can drink a good coffee, exchange a word with the barman and then go out.

For the quality aspect, Starbucks offers a very wide range of products.  Their food is usually full of ingredients such as chocolate and whipped cream and it sells very rich cakes. Instead, Italian consumers prefer homemade products, with fresh milk and genuine ingredients. This is because of Italian culture for food, which is given a huge importance.

Knowing these discrepancies, we can now zone in on where Starbucks should focus its activity and investments in order to be successful in the Italian market.

The main gaps we found between what Starbucks ideally wants customers to perceive it as and what Italian customers actually perceive it as are the quality and working space associations. 

Through our survey and some additional research, we found multiple reasons Italians view Starbucks coffee as a lower quality coffee. First, Italians do not like chain coffee shops.  According to Forbes, 89% of the cafe/bar market in Italy is made up of independent shops.  Italians see chain restaurants and cafe’s products as being of lower quality. Starbucks is going to have to figure out a way to either market their product as a high quality product and explain why, or appeal to a different audience, such as millennials, who are more open minded to change. 

Also according to Forbes, Italian baristas are viewed differently by Italians than American baristas are viewed by Americans. For example, in America, many baristas are young and trying to make money to pay for college. Starbucks even offers many different scholarships for its baristas to be able to move on to bigger and better things. These baristas do not have as much experience in making high quality coffee drinks, as they consider their job a stepping stone to a better future. Forbes claims that in Italy, the average age of a barista is 48 years old and that being a barista is a more valued and sometimes lifetime profession in Italy. This being said, the baristas have a lot more experience in Italy than they do in America, which may play a role in the high quality of coffee that Italy has to offer. As a solution to this problem, Starbucks could try to target baristas with experience, or people who are planning on staying with the company long term, instead of targeting employees that are similar to their American counterparts. This way, the quality of their coffee may be perceived as higher since the employees are more passionate about what they are doing. 

Lastly, in America, Starbucks provides a wide range of different options for coffee, such as pumpkin spice lattes, salted caramel mocha, etc. Italians view these drinks as “kid drinks” with way too much sugar and other ingredients added to them. These drinks are viewed as low quality coffee, since by the end there is not much pure, high end coffee left. A solution to this would be that Starbucks is going to have to adapt its product offerings to the Italian market. As Forbes explains, Starbucks has done this before and it is proven in Starbucks’ China market, where they serve red bean Frappuccinos, and Mooncakes. By offering these products unique to the China market, Starbucks shows that it is adapting to what its Chinese customers want. Starbucks can take this same approach with the Italian market, making sure to offer some Italian favorites like espresso shots, cappuccinos, lattes, as well as food options like croissants, brioche, etc. 

Another main difference is that Starbucks provides an environment where they would like to be perceived as a “working space”. Because Starbucks is focusing on adapting to Italian culture instead of imposing its mentality on Italians, the café should redesign its atmosphere to better fit with Italian culture. Some further marketing research might be necessary to explore specifically what Italians would like to see in the atmosphere of their coffee shops. However, compared to the cafes that already exist, it appears Italians appreciate each coffee shop to be it’s own unique space. Starbucks will need to move away from franchised locations that all appear exactly the same instead to individually designed atmospheres that fit their location and surroundings. Hand in hand with believing in the importance of the quality of their coffee, Italians enjoy consuming a hot beverage on the spot instead of rushing out with coffee to go. Starbucks should fixate less on cardboard coffee cups that are easy to take and go, and instead invest in real cups that invite their customers to stay and enjoy their beverage.

Starbucks could work further to solve this gap by changing its desire to be perceived as a workplace into a social place. Having real cups and an environment that invites customers to stay and chat would be the first step. Italians value conversation and when dining out, their meals often take much longer than they would in America. Starbucks could try to create a similar type of environment for people to come and talk over beverages instead of food.

In conclusion, we decided to do our report on Starbucks, since it is an extremely relevant topic right now with the fact that it is opening up its first branch in Italy soon. We thought it would be interesting to analyze the way Italians view Starbucks and try to figure out solutions as to how Starbucks can better align the image they want consumers to have about their company, to the way consumers actually feel about their company. Overall, we found that Italians view Starbucks coffee as low quality, and that Italians do not view a coffee shop as a place to sit down and get work done. We think that Starbucks can try to get around these assumptions by training baristas who will view their position as a legitimate job, designing their menu from the perspective of an Italian, and creating an environment that invites customers to stay and talk, not necessarily work.



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