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Originally published Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 8:05 PM

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Starbucks fast-tracks coffee on a train

Starbucks rolls out its first train-car cafe, traveling at more than 120 mph. Also, Costco connects with Google for test of same-day delivery service.


By Seattle Times business staff

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Coffee addicts traveling through Switzerland now have access to the world’s fastest-moving Starbucks.

A red-and-white Starbucks rail car, jointly created by the Seattle coffee giant and Swiss rail operator SBB, made its first public trip this past Thursday on a 222-mile run between Geneva and the northeastern city of St. Gallen.

Emblazoned with a giant version of the ubiquitous green mermaid logo, the double-decked car represents the latest Starbucks flirtation with unorthodox coffee-shop concepts — which the company says allows it to connect with coffee drinkers in novel ways. A local (nonmoving) example: Last year the company opened a drive-through in Tukwila made out of reclaimed cargo containers.

Starbucks director of concept design Liz Muller says it took the better part of two years to replicate the “Starbucks experience” in a train that moves at more than 120 miles per hour.

“We’ve never done anything that traveled at this speed,” the Amsterdam-based designer said in an interview.

To keep customers — and their laptops — safe from spilling hot beverages, tables have indentations to help cups stay in place during the jiggly moments when the train pulls into a station.

Designers also had to negotiate how to cram all the espresso-making machinery — and inviting seating space — into a cramped rectangle where people are always on the move. “I’ve never learned so much about trains in my life,” Muller said.

The car’s lower deck has a standing bar and high tables and the upstairs has a lounge where baristas serve customers their drinks at the table. The brown-hued color scheme is inspired by coffee.

During the maiden voyage, the 50-seat car was full, and “people were taking pictures.”

But Starbucks fans shouldn’t expect replicas of the rolling cafe to pop up on all the world’s railways in the same way its stationary counterparts have taken over street corners and malls everywhere. The Swiss car remains an experiment from which Starbucks seeks to learn, the company says.

— Ángel González: agonzalez@seattletimes.com

Costco explores delivery deal with Google

Need to stock up on Kirkland Signature Super Extra-Large Peanuts for the Oakland Raiders versus Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day but don’t want to brave the preholiday parking lot at Costco?

How about getting 2,000 beverage napkins to keep the extended family from ruining the furniture without moving from the couch? Don’t want to lug a 12-pack of San Pellegrino water all the way to your fourth-floor walk-up?

If you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’re in luck: This past week Costco struck a deal with Google Shopping Express, the software giant’s same-day delivery service, to allow clients to “stock up on holiday essentials that are bulky, heavy and hard to schlep” without moving a finger, according to Google.

The service costs $5 per order, but people who sign up for a free trial membership by the end of the year will get six months of free deliveries.

“We hope to bring the service to more people soon but have no plans to announce at this time,” a Google spokesman said.

Although so far limited to Silicon Valley, San Francisco and surrounding areas, the deal underscores how traditional retailers and technology players are entering an epic struggle to control local commerce.

Amazon, the company that successfully pioneered the marriage between the Internet and retail, is in the midst of a big push for reduced cost or same-day delivery of its vast array of offerings, luring customers to become Amazon Prime members and delivering groceries in Seattle and Los Angeles through Amazon Fresh.

Google Shopping Express, the Bay Area tech giant’s answer to Amazon Fresh, has struck deals with Staples, Guitar Center and other retailers besides Costco.

Others are joining the fray: eBay Now offers a shopping service that promises to deliver local in about an hour, in Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

McAdams Wright Ragen analyst Dan Geiman says Costco, buttressed by rapid growth, so far seems undaunted by Amazon, and that it may have seen in the deal with Google an interesting opportunity to kick the tires of an emerging market.

Over the long term, he said, it “may be a combination that works.”

— Ángel González: agonzalez@seattletimes.com

Comments? Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8541



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