Customer Experience in the Coffee World: Qualitative Research on the US Market

Customer Experience in the Coffee World: Qualitative Research on the US Market

Patrizia de Luca (University of Trieste, Italy), Giovanna Pegan (University of Trieste, Italy) and Donata Vianelli (University of Trieste, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1412-2.ch012


This chapter contributes to understanding the customer experience of the in-store environment by analyzing the business of coffee shops in the United States (U.S.) market. After a brief overview of the evolution of coffee shops and a short analysis of the management literature on coffee shops, in the last decade, the main findings of the qualitative research are presented. The chapter outlines the features of the U.S. coffee shop landscape and explores American consumers' perception of the coffee shop experience using the nethnographic research method. The results show a complex picture from the offer and the demand perspective that could also contribute to supporting coffee companies in managing customer experience strategy in the large and multicultural North American market.
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The world coffee market is constantly evolving in terms of both supply and demand (Boaventura, Abdallà, Araujò, & Arakelian, 2018; de Luca & Pegan, 2014; Morris, 2013; Samoggia & Riedel, 2018). Over time it has gone through several phases, known as “waves of coffee consumption” (Fischer, 2017).

Nowadays the coffee industry is passing through another transformation that is driven by shifting consumer values in a growing connected global landscape, where consumers are used to also deciding to support companies that reflect their values and need for novelty (National Coffee Association [NCA], 2019).

One of the most relevant trends is the growing development of out-of-home consumption, which determines new opportunities and consumption patterns for all food and beverages and therefore also for coffee, both in developed and emerging markets (Gilmore, 2004; IBISWorld, 2013; Wong, 2010). Further, the cultural hybridization created by opening new market perspectives has helped modify the architecture of the spaces dedicated to clients who are more refined and therefore ask for higher quality. As places, ways, and moments of consumption evolve, bars and similar places become aggregation sites. This suggests new ways of considering outdoor consumption. Today, pleasure and leisure play an important role in consumer culture (Belk, Guliz, & Soren, 2003; Hirschman & Holbrook, 1982), and often “consumers enjoy leisure away from home and work in ‘third places’ such as cafés” (Karababa & Ger, 2010, p. 737). In other words, coffee shops have assumed a particular role in affecting sociocultural behavior and the consumption landscape in international markets. Nowadays, they are driving the coffe’s new reality (Agrawal, 2009; Euromonitor International, 2018; Thompson & Arsel, 2004).

Recently, the managerial literature on coffee and coffee shops has emphasized the importance of deepening the coffee shop experience in different contexts to understand its main drivers in creating a delightful coffee experience (Sathish & Venkatesakumar, 2011; Yu & Fang, 2009). As Pine and Gilmore (1998) emphasize, “consumers unquestionably desire experiences, and more and more businesses are responding by explicitly designing and promoting them” (p. 97). The literature recognizes the key role that customer experience plays in determining the competitive success of a company in all industries (Carù & Cova, 2003; Hirschman & Holbrook, 1982; Pine & Gilmore, 1999; Resciniti, 2004; Schmitt, 1999; Verhoef et al., 2009). In particular, creating a memorable customer experience is a strategic objective in the retail business. As several authors have pointed out, to manage the customers’ experience, retailers should understand what the experience actually means to them and which marketing tools could be relevant to influence this experience (Grewal, Baker, Levy, & Voss, 2003; Naylor, Kleiser, Baker, & Yorkston, 2008). According to Verhoef et al. (2009):

The customer experience construct is holistic in nature and involves the customer’s cognitive, affective, emotional, social and physical responses to the retailer. This experience is created not only by those elements which the retailer can control (e.g., service interface, retail atmosphere, assortment, price), but also by elements that are out of the retailer’s control (e.g., influence of others, purpose of shopping) (p. 32).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Store Atmosphere: The system of physical and social dimensions of a retail store affecting consumer perception and behavior.

Coffee Culture: A lifestyle characterized by drinking coffee as a social activity, especially in a coffee shop. The formation of culture around coffee and coffeehouses dates back to 4 th century in Turkey and Middle East. Historically coffee shops, or cafés, and related coffee culture have been an important social point in Europe.

Nethnography: Ethnography applied to the internet. This recognized method is frequently applied in the latest social and marketing research, usually to observe the complex underlying symbolic world of buying behavior and to explain consumers’ action-structured paths.

Coffee Shop: Establishments where coffee is the main beverage offered although food and other beverages are also available, especially nonalcoholic beverages and specialty snacks.

Third Wave of Coffee: Part of the specialty coffee movement. It refers to a current movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff rather than a commodity. The term refers chiefly to the American phenomenon since the 1990s and continuing today. Similar movements exist in some other countries, all over the world.

Online Community: A social network of individuals interacting through social media, with the aim of pursuing mutual interests or goals. It potentially crosses geographic and political boundaries.

Qualitative Research: The aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons at the basis of such behavior. It investigates above all the why and how of decision making and expresses all the different facets of the considered phenomenon. Thus, smaller focused samples are used instead of large samples. Consequently, qualitative research produces information for specific cases and is not generalizable.

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