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Why your bank wants to copy Starbucks

Are banks the next “hang-out” destination?

Some 30 years ago the birth of Starbucks brought Italian coffee bars, and their romance of the coffee experience, to North America. Starbucks had the foresight to bring the coffeehouse tradition across the pond, and in the process give us something we didn’t even know we wanted: the “third place.”

The term refers to a social setting between work and home that fills the gaps of what’s missing in both environments. A “third place” encourages people to congregate and converse and foster a sense of community.

Starbucks grew from a single location in Seattle to a caffeinated colossus that bestrides the world. Since then, the most successful retailers have also focused on creating a sense of community with their brand. They do this with retail environments that encourage shoppers not to necessarily always buy, but to lounge around and enjoy the experience of shopping, too.

Retailers are very conscious that creating a meticulously designed interior will extend the period of time you will spend in their store. The longer you spend, the more you will embrace the brand, and the better chance you purchase more than if you were only going in for one specific item. They do it because they’ve learned that social bonds are stronger than economic ones. In other words, creating a place customers love can be more profitable than creating a place that just provides a good deal.

Think about it: Why do coffeehouses encourage you to take up some of their limited space for three hours, surfing the internet while caressing a cold cup of coffee and eating a $1.50-scone? Why are computer stores designed with all of their products on display for you to discover and play with, but with no pressure to purchase anything? And why is your new financial institution, in the age of internet banking, building more branches with interior spaces that look like the home you wish you had?

Simple: They want you to try and experience their product, knowing that you will eventually buy.

In the case of banks, it’s also because they realize that banking and investing has become a bit of a mystery to some. If the branch can become the new third place, it will encourage all sorts to spend more time in the branch and learn about the different investment programs or perhaps take out a line of credit or loan.

We’re working with several financial institutions that are embracing this trend. These new branches will typically include the removal of the traditional teller line-up as your first experience of the branch. Instead, an interactive wall will provide general information on loans, rates and a variety of banking conveniences—a genius bar, if you will, that invites potential customers to explore the financial institution’s website at leisure. Tablet computers at the bar will provide easy access to information or calculate a new car loan or mortgage. If further information is required, a banking assistant will be on-hand to answer questions or take you to a private meeting room nearby.

In other words, the traditional banking hall will become a “Community Room” designed primarily to create a feeling of local connection. It will have direct access to the exterior that allows the room to be booked after hours by anyone in the community for their local book club or their kid’s birthday party. The traditional uncomfortable waiting room furniture will be replaced with a variety of seating options that invite customers to stay and have a latte, play Wii on a big-screen television, or enjoy the fireplace on a cold winter day.

So the next time you are in local financial branch, you might find yourself staying a little longer to enjoy the amenities.

Or, if the bank has its way, you might have just been convinced to take out a new line of credit.

Dean Benvenuto is an architect and principal based in our Edmonton office.

If the branch can become the new third place, it will encourage all sorts to spend more time in the branch and learn about the bank.

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