Starbucks Japan: Localisation Case Study

Loc N Apps
5 min readJul 23, 2020

“inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.”

About Starbucks

Most people kick start their day with a perfect cup of coffee. It is fuel for the body, and the best place to get coffee from is none other than our beloved Starbucks! When it comes to premium coffee, Starbucks is among the top brands worldwide.

It opened its first store in Seattle in 1971 and started with being a roaster and retailer of whole bean , ground coffee, tea and spices. As of 2019, Starbucks has nearly 31,000 stores over 80 markets. So, how did the company not only get popular in its own home country but also capture the international market? Let’s start from the beginning.

Starbucks first stepped into the international market in October 1995. It opened its first store in Tokyo, Japan in 1996 as a joint venture between Sazaby League and Starbucks Coffee International. Today it has expanded to 1553 stores across Japan. As per the paper on Starbucks (SBUX), it is turning towards CAP (China and Asia Pacific) region because it is the company’s fastest-growing segment. As Japan was the first international venture for Starbucks, let’s look at its strategy to expand in the Japanese market.

Localising for Japan

Starbucks, at initial stages, opened its first store via a 50–50 partnership with Sazaby League, a famous retailer and restaurant chain, which was already a big name in the Japanese market. This strategy was great to enter into foreign markets as by partnering with a regional brand; it significantly decreased the risk associated with entering into an international market without proper knowledge. Their partner helped them establish the goodwill as they already knew the local market inside out. When Starbucks became confident that it can run its operations on its own, it then took complete ownership in 2004 and kept expanding. Although it was the company’s first international venture, it continued this strategy. Starbucks launched in India with a partnership with India’s big player aka TATA group.


Starbucks knew that Asian cultures, food, and even drinking habits are different from American culture. The company recognised the heavy influence of tea in Asian cultures and customised its menu accordingly. Starbucks added teas, specifically matcha tea, along with blended beverages (Frappuccino), juice, etc. The company introduces a variety of innovative drinks along with mugs and tumblers every season. The servings are smaller as compared to American sizes and even less sweet to complement the Japanese taste buds. Starbucks has tailored its approach based on exceptional customer service and custom menus.

Source: Japan Today

In the USA, people love the casual environment of Starbucks, which mostly attracts teenagers. People also upload pictures of Starbucks baristas purposely writing the customers’ names in a hilarious or witty manner. However, Japanese culture is more private. In Japan, instead of names, orders are allotted by numbers. Japanese people love to keep their identity secret and would not like someone shouting their names out loud. Japanese Starbucks cafes also have a quiet and peaceful ambience when compared to other global locations.


Japan has some beautiful and unique Starbucks buildings. They hired local architects and designers to create cafes to fit into the Japanese environment. The inspiration is taken from the local architecture, and the low roofs are inspired by Shintoism, a prevalent religion in the country. Below is the picture of Dazaifu Tenmangu Omotesando Store, Fukuoka. It is designed by Kengo Kuma using the traditional Kigumi technique, which is the art of arranging wooden joints without using nails. This design is a beautiful amalgamation of contemporary and traditional.

Source: Timeout

Social Media Localization

Since Starbucks’ consumer base is mostly teenagers and young people, social media is the best promotional and analytical tool. Starbucks Japan has 4.8 million followers on twitter, 2.3 million on Instagram, and over a million followers on Facebook. Through social media, the company can see what’s trending in the region and promote its product via the internet. Japan is not an English speaking country; hence all of their social media accounts are localised in the Japanese language and they frequently upload new products, promotions, and aesthetically pleasing pictures of a cup of coffee.

Below is the seasonal coffee from Sakura collection posted on Starbucks’ Instagram handle

Source: Instagram

Starbucks Japan in 2020

Japan launched its Sakura 2020 collection in February this year. They have added cherry-blossomed flavour beverages and AR experiences in-store as a part of their seasonal promotion.

Cherry-blossomed Beverage

Source: Starbucks

Sakura Collection 2020 Merchandise

Source: Starbucks

AR(Augmented Reality) themed in-store experience.

Source: Starbucks

Starbucks is also opening three more stores in July 2020 in Shinjuku Chuo Park Shuknova, Jazz Dream Nagashima, and Yomiuriland Goodjoba. The company has successfully established itself in Japan. Not only in Japan, but it is also continuously expanding in the other countries of CAP (China and Asia Pacific) region opening stores after stores.

Fun Fact: Starbucks is known as Sutaba (スタバ) in Japanese.

By Pooja Srivastava
Team Loc-N-Apps

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