Coffee shops: A parallel retail universe

Go slow: Time stands still in coffee shops

Time, we are always being told, is of the essence. People don’t have it anymore. They are time-poor. They want convenience above all else. Even punching their PIN number in to a payment terminal is too much waiting around, they want facial recognition and they want it now. Grab and Go is the mantra. Which it makes it all the more puzzling that coffee shops seem to operate in some kind of parallel universe when it comes to consumer patience.

What one might call ‘coffee shop time’ begins the moment the consumer steps over the threshold. The same people who, five minutes previously in the next door shop, had tapped their foot impatiently, drummed their fingers on the counter and rolled their eyes at the incredible slowness of the queue now think nothing of waiting ten or more minutes for the coffee they have ordered to be prepared. The same people who think nothing of pre-ordering lunch on their phone, for example, to avoid the five minute preparation time wait are suddenly content to hang around almost indefinitely, rubbing shoulders with other waiting customers in an aimless state, whilst saying absolutely nothing to hurry the barista along.

How can this be accounted for? It can only be that the coffee shops have spectacularly succeeded where most retailers have completely failed in persuading the customer of two things. Firstly that only very skilled and trained people can make coffee – hence the existence of the job title ‘barista’ formerly unknown in English before 1992 and now the subject of world championship competitions.

And secondly that something which is relatively so expensive must by definition be both waited for and be worth waiting for. Rather like Guinness and its ‘Good things come to those who wait’ slogan most coffee shops have created a story around the theatre of product preparation which ensures that customers would in fact feel short-changed if their drink arrived too soon.

Worth waiting for? Consumers say yes.

In the world of coffee the very fact of the long wait is the indicator of quality and in the on-going battle to attract and keep people in the high street a little bit of ‘coffee shop time’ magic might just go down a treat.