Study: Starbucks Friendlier Than Local Coffee Shops

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Anthropologists from West Virginia University conducted a social experiment to see if corporate chain stores like Starbucks could make their patrons feel as welcome as their local, independently-owned counterparts.

You can’t help but feel special when you step into a business and the employee greets you by name and remembers what you normally order. Along with bars, coffee houses have traditionally been gathering places for socializing and a warm feeling of community.

Anthropologists from West Virginia University conducted a social experiment to see if corporate chain stores like Starbucks could make their patrons feel as welcome as their local, independently-owned counterparts.

Using sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s criteria for a perfect social space, the researchers compared three Starbucks locations to three independent coffee shops in the Boston area. They evaluated how friendly and social people were, the seating arrangement, the types of activities going on, amenities like internet access, and atmosphere including music, lighting, and décor.

Surprisingly, Starbucks did much better at anticipating and meeting customer needs, especially in welcoming new patrons. According to the study, “The Starbucks baristas would help customers by explaining the many options available and even offering suggestions. In contrast, the baristas at the independently-owned coffee houses were more aloof and would just wait or sometimes stare at a customer, offering minimal assistance.”

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