starbucks business model

A comprehensive study of the Starbucks Business Model

Here’s a case study of the Starbucks Business Model to explain the structure of its operations and better understand how the coffee giant makes money.

Starbucks is a global coffeehouse chain that has become synonymous with the modern coffee experience. With more than 32,000 locations worldwide, the company has fundamentally changed the way people think about and consume coffee. In this blog post, we will explore the business model of Starbucks using Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, a strategic management tool that helps businesses visualize and understand their core elements. We will also delve into the company’s history, its founders, and the story behind its immense success.

The History of Starbucks

Starbucks was founded in 1971 by three friends, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker, in Seattle, Washington. The founders, who met while attending the University of San Francisco, were inspired by their mutual love for high-quality coffee and the teachings of Alfred Peet, the founder of Peet’s Coffee. Initially, Starbucks was a single store that sold only high-quality coffee beans and equipment for brewing at home, with no intentions of serving beverages. However, the business model evolved over time, and Starbucks expanded its offerings to include freshly brewed coffee.

In 1982, Howard Schultz joined Starbucks as the director of retail operations and marketing. After a trip to Italy, where he observed the thriving café culture, Schultz became convinced that Starbucks could bring a similar experience to the United States. He left Starbucks in 1985 to start his own coffee company, Il Giornale, and later acquired Starbucks in 1987, merging the two companies. Schultz’s vision of creating a “third place” between home and work, where people could relax and enjoy a high-quality coffee experience, laid the foundation for Starbucks’ future success.

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Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas Applied to Starbucks

To better understand Starbucks’ business model, we will analyze it using the nine key components of Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas:

  1. Customer Segments
  2. Value Propositions
  3. Channels
  4. Customer Relationships
  5. Revenue Streams
  6. Key Resources
  7. Key Activities
  8. Key Partnerships
  9. Cost Structure

Customer Segments

Starbucks primarily targets the following customer segments:

  • Urban professionals: Individuals who seek a convenient, comfortable place to relax, work, or socialize while enjoying a high-quality coffee or snack.
  • College students: Starbucks attracts students looking for a place to study, collaborate on projects, or simply take a break from their busy schedules.
  • Coffee enthusiasts: People who appreciate the taste and experience of high-quality coffee, as well as the company’s commitment to ethical sourcing and sustainability.

Additionally, Starbucks also caters to customers who prefer alternative beverages, such as tea and smoothies, and offers a variety of food items, including breakfast sandwiches, salads, and baked goods.

Value Propositions

Starbucks delivers value to its customers through the following propositions:

  • Premium coffee and beverages: Starbucks is committed to providing customers with high-quality coffee, ensuring consistency across its locations by roasting its own beans and implementing rigorous training programs for baristas.
  • The “third place” experience: Starbucks creates a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere where customers can socialize, work, or relax, reinforcing its position as a “third place” between home and work.
  • Customization: Starbucks allows customers to personalize their beverages, accommodating different tastes and preferences.
  • Convenience and accessibility: With thousands of locations worldwide, Starbucks offers customers a familiar and reliable coffee experience, no matter where they are.
  • Ethical sourcing and sustainability: Starbucks is committed to sourcing its coffee through ethical practices, investing in farmer support centers, and promoting sustainable farming methods. This commitment appeals to environmentally conscious and socially responsible consumers.


Starbucks uses a mix of channels to reach its customers, including:

  • Company-operated stores: These make up the majority of Starbucks’ locations, ensuring control over the customer experience, product quality, and brand image.
  • Licensed stores: Starbucks also partners with other retailers, such as grocery stores, airports, and hotels, to operate licensed stores, expanding its reach without significant investment.
  • Drive-thrus: To cater to customers seeking convenience and speed, many Starbucks locations offer drive-thru services.
  • E-commerce: Starbucks sells products like coffee beans, brewing equipment, and merchandise through its online store.
  • Mobile app: The Starbucks mobile app allows customers to place orders, pay, and participate in the Starbucks Rewards loyalty program.

Customer Relationships

Starbucks fosters strong customer relationships through:

  • Personalized service: Baristas are trained to engage with customers, remembering their names and favorite orders, creating a sense of familiarity and connection.
  • Starbucks Rewards: The loyalty program offers personalized offers, free food and drink items, and other perks, encouraging repeat business and customer loyalty.
  • Customer feedback: Starbucks actively solicits customer feedback through various channels, such as its mobile app and website, to better understand customer preferences and continually improve its offerings.

Revenue Streams

Starbucks generates revenue through multiple streams:

  • Beverage sales: This represents the largest portion of Starbucks’ revenue, including coffee, tea, and other specialty beverages.
  • Food sales: Starbucks offers a variety of food items, such as breakfast sandwiches, salads, and baked goods, contributing to its overall revenue.
  • Packaged products: Starbucks sells its coffee beans, K-Cups, and other branded products in its stores and through third-party retailers, such as grocery stores.
  • Licensing fees: Starbucks earns revenue from licensing its brand and products to other retailers, who operate Starbucks-branded locations.
  • Online and mobile sales: Starbucks generates revenue through its e-commerce platform and mobile app, selling merchandise, gift cards, and more.

Key Resources

Starbucks relies on several key resources to operate its business:

  • Store locations: Starbucks’ extensive network of stores is essential to its brand presence and customer accessibility.
  • Coffee beans: Sourcing high-quality coffee beans is critical to Starbucks’ product offerings and reputation.
  • Brand image: Starbucks’ strong brand image and reputation attract customers and support premium pricing.
  • Human resources: Starbucks invests heavily in employee training and development, ensuring a high level of service and expertise in its stores.
  • Technology: Starbucks utilizes technology to streamline operations, enhance the customer experience, and support its mobile app and e-commerce platform.

Key Activities

Starbucks’ key activities include:

  • Coffee roasting and distribution: Starbucks roasts its coffee beans in-house, ensuring consistency and quality across its locations.
  • Store operations: Starbucks manages its company-operated stores and oversees licensed locations to maintain a consistent customer experience.
  • Product development: Starbucks continually innovates its menu, introducing new beverages and food items to keep customers engaged and interested.
  • Marketing and branding: Starbucks invests in marketing campaigns, social media engagement, and in-store promotions to maintain its brand image and reach new customers.

Key Partnerships

Starbucks forms strategic partnerships to support its business, such as:

  • Coffee farmers and suppliers: Starbucks works closely with coffee farmers to ensure the quality and sustainability of its coffee supply.
  • Licensed store operators: Starbucks partners with other retailers to expand its presence and reach new customers.
  • Technology partners: Starbucks collaborates with technology companies to develop and maintain its mobile app, e-commerce platform, and in-store technology solutions.
  • Non-profit organizations: Starbucks partners with non-profit organizations to support its corporate social responsibility initiatives, such as ethical sourcing, environmental sustainability, and community development.

Cost Structure

Starbucks’ primary costs include:

  • Store operations: This encompasses store leases, employee wages, utilities, and other operational expenses.
  • Cost of goods sold: Starbucks incurs costs related to the procurement of coffee beans, food items, and other supplies.
  • Marketing and advertising: Starbucks invests in marketing efforts to maintain brand visibility and attract customers.
  • Research and development: Starbucks allocates resources to develop new products and enhance existing offerings.
  • Corporate overhead: This includes administrative expenses, such as salaries for corporate staff, technology infrastructure, and other general and administrative costs.

Starbucks’ success can be attributed to its unique business model, which combines premium coffee offerings, a strong brand image, and a commitment to creating a welcoming “third place” experience for customers. By analyzing Starbucks using Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, we can gain valuable insights into the company’s strategic decisions, key resources, and partnerships that have contributed to its growth and global dominance in the coffee industry.

Through understanding Starbucks’ business model, aspiring entrepreneurs can learn valuable lessons about the importance of a clear value proposition, consistent customer experience, and strategic partnerships. By applying these insights to their own ventures, they can better position themselves for success in today’s competitive business landscape.

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