I unwittingly walked into the middle of a spontaneous retail experiment yesterday. As I entered the New Orleans convention center on my way to the SHRM conference I saw a long line. At first I figured it was for registration. As I followed the line with my eyes to the beginning I realized it was a snaking line of about 60 people waiting for a Starbucks coffee.

While that is noticeably longer than most lines I see waiting for food, it wasn’t shocking. This is a large conference with about 15,000 attendees so you can expect peak time waits. What caught my attention however was an unbranded coffee and refreshment concession right next to the end of the Starbucks line.  The contrast was stark. In a time when everyone talks about how busy they are, people are willing to wait 20-30 minutes for a Starbucks coffee when a likely reasonable and less expensive cup of coffee was available in less than five minutes. It was worth a picture so I took this panoramic image. On the right is the Starbucks store, in the middle (back) is the line of people waiting for Starbucks. On the left near the back of the line is the unbranded concession with a small line.


When the topic about valuing the brand and a great customer experience comes up, this little experiment shows that at least in the retail coffee market the value is worth about 30 minutes of a customer’s time and probably a 20% price premium even when the switching cost is zero. (Yes, I know, cut me a little slack on sample size)

The lesson can be translated to other markets….bare bones service and low cost offerings have their place in the market, but a larger percentage of consumers place a premium on the overall experience that includes service and product. Is your company doing what it can to deliver this kind of experience to your customers?


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