Ged Carroll

87000 possible combinations

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I saw this notice talking about 87000 possible combinations and was reminded of the car industry. Back in the 1990s, I remember being told that car maker Volvo had over 30,000 combinations of vehicles available as passenger cars. This included: body shell variants, diesel and petrol engines of different sizes and power, manual or automatic transmissions, interior design options, in car entertainment options, safety features, paint jobs, body accoutrements. Since then Volvo has hinted at electric vehicles and now has at least two models of SUVs.

87000 possible combinations, originally uploaded by renaissancechambara.

While I don’t doubt the statistical capability of Starbucks marketing department, I was surprised to see that the coffee shop could serve up 87000 possible combinations of drinks based on relatively few options. This could be even larger in Starbucks other markets like Hong Kong or Japan, where there are more beverage varieties like Milk Tea or Matcha lattes, and more seasonal variation such as sakura season and mid-autumn festival alongside the usual Starbucks products.

All of which brings home the impact of mass-customisation to a business. How would the Starbucks EPOS (electronic point of sales) system handle 87000 possible combinations? How does this impact the training of their baristas? Is there an operational model like a decision tree for these coffee options?

I wonder is there a Starbucks long tail? What is the split between cold coffee drinks and hot drinks? Has this long tail altered itself over time, as the popularity of flat white drinks have taken off due to the influence of Australian coffee culture? How does the long tail affect the relative prioritisation that Starbucks might put on the different ingredients that go into their drinks? Mass customisation has gone mainstream. What does this degree of customisation mean for other service and retail businesses? How does this compare to what is seen in personalised products like NikeID or MyAdidas?

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