Sustained Competitive Advantage of Starbucks

Updated on June 20, 2020
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Colt is a longtime freelance writer who's always been interested in examining businesses to help inform others.

Learn about the sustained competitive advantages of the popular coffee chain, Starbucks.
Learn about the sustained competitive advantages of the popular coffee chain, Starbucks.

Starbucks Corporation

Starbucks needs no formal introduction as it is the largest coffee company in the whole world. When you think of premium coffee, the brand "Starbucks" comes to mind inevitably. It was first founded in 1971 by three aspiring entrepreneurs and thousands of stores have sprung up across the world since.

In April 2010, Schultz announced that Starbucks has seen considerable progress in returning to profitability and growth. Net revenues increased by 8.6% in the second quarter of 2010 compared to the same quarter in 2009. Fast forward to 2019, its train of success is not showing signs of stopping. Starbucks has become a leading coffee chain in many countries (even in hard-to-penetrate markets such as China, where it has over 3600 stores and the world's largest Starbucks store). What has contributed to Starbucks' sustained competitive advantage and success over the past few decades?

A Connected Customer Experience

Starbucks seeks to provide a connected customer experience to build and maintain a long term relationship. More than just offering fine coffee, the coffee giant provides the “Starbucks Experience” which makes customers feel at home, forming a strong emotional attachment. Starbucks stores are designed with great ambiance and accessibility in mind. Schultz believes that employees are the key to building a positive customer experience. A host of benefits such as health care, stock option plans, stock purchase plans, training and recognition has been implemented.

Starbucks was ranked 7th in Fortune’s annual list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” in 2008. A decade later in 2018, it is still listed as one of the best places to work for (e.g. Job site has placed Starbucks in its "50 Best Places to Work in 2018" list).

Starbucks Rewards Card

Starbucks also introduced the Starbucks Rewards Card that provides a host of benefits. This entices customers returning to make purchases, building loyalty. Starbucks also launched the Starbucks Customer Experience Survey which allowed customers to share their thoughts about their experience at Starbucks. This is evident that Starbucks is committed to establishing long term relationships with the customer.

Mastrena Espresso Machine
Mastrena Espresso Machine | Source

The Finest Coffee Beans

Starbucks uses the finest beans for its coffee. Company personnel often travel frequently in search of suppliers that meet its standards. In addition, Starbucks also purchased Certified Organic coffee and Fair Trade certified coffee. In 2009 alone, 14 million pounds of certified organic coffee was purchased by Starbucks Corp. Coffee is also brewed with Mastrena, a sophisticated Swiss-made espresso machine. When you visit a Starbucks cafe overseas, you will be greeted with that familiar taste, no matter where you are.

Porter's Generic Strategies

According to Michael Porter, three general strategies can be used to achieve a sustained competitive advantage. They are cost leadership, differentiation and focus.

Porter describes the strategy of differentiation as the delivery of quality products or services that are perceived to be unique and valued by consumers. Product differentiation is the core of Starbucks' strategy to gain a sustained competitive advantage. Starbucks offers such differentiation through an excellent customer experience and quality coffee The “Starbucks Experience” is achieved through its well-designed stores with good ambiance and well-trained staff. According to a study conducted by Daily Mail, Starbucks stores provided a more welcoming décor with friendlier baristas compared to independent coffee houses.

The differentiation strategy of being a premium and unique coffee drinking provider has allowed Starbucks to achieve a sustained competitive advantage.

Starbucks Competitors

Who Are Starbucks' Top Competitors?

  • Luckin Coffee (China)
  • Costa Coffee (Headquartered in England)
  • Dunkin Donuts (in some markets and countries, their focus is not on coffee)
  • McDonald's McCafe
  • Tim Hortons (based in Canada but gradually expanding in the United States)
  • Competitors specializing in other forms of beverages, mainly tea brands (e.g., countries like China have tea deep-rooted as part of their culture).

Do you think Starbucks' competitive advantage will last?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Geronimo Colt


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    • informationshelte profile image


      6 years ago

      The unprecedented global success of Starbucks can only compared with the expansion of McDonald's and its domination of the fast food market. It shows that the business of serving coffee and other related beverages is a die-hard business even in times of economic recession. On top of that, the profit margin in the business of serving coffee is quite high, so it's no surprise that Starbucks remained profitable during 2009 and 2010.


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