First Look: Starbucks opening its fifth ‘signing store’

Marianne Wilson
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Starbucks Corp. is taking its store concept for the deaf and hard of hearing to Japan.

The coffee giant will open its first “Signing Store in Japan on June 27, expanding career opportunities for 19 new and existing deaf and hard of hearing Starbucks employees.  Located in Tokyo’s Kunitachi City, the 2,240-sq.-ft. space leverages technology and art to create an immersive experience in sign language and deaf culture. It will be Starbucks’ fifth signing store. 

Customers have several options when ordering in the store, including contactless speech-to-text voice recognition through a tablet at the register, pointing to items on the menu, or writing on a notepad.  

In addition to Starbucks Japan’s current safety and hygiene standards in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new store is taking other precautionary measures, including clear masks for partners to help those who read lips. It also features a numbered ticket entry system to avoid interior congestion. Tickets are issued with the kiosk at the entrance of the store or through an online ticketing page, which also gives an approximate waiting time.

Digital signage lets customers track the progress of their order through the number printed on their receipt. When orders are ready, a sign language animation invites customers to pick up their purchases. The digital signage also shows frequently signed phrases of greeting, allowing all customers to immerse themselves in the world of sign language.

Throughout the store, original artwork inspired by sign language creates a window for customers to explore deaf culture in Japan. The art is designed by Hidehiko Kado, a child of deaf adults, who takes inspiration from sign language to produce artworks that connect people with or without hearing difficulties through bright, whimsical expressions. The central theme of all the work is connection via sign language. Within the artwork are several sign phrases, including greetings and coffee-inspired phrases that will come to life in everyday interactions between partners and customers.

The first Starbucks signing store opened in 2016, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Since then, Starbucks has opened signing stores in Washington, D.C.; Guangzhou, China; and Penang, Malaysia.