China may eventually surpass the United States as Starbucks' biggest market.
The Seattle-based coffee company says that it is set to open 500 new stores in China in 2016, pushing it towards a goal of operating at least 3,400 locations there by 2019, and affirming the key role that China is playing in the company's growth.
"As Starbucks' second-largest and fastest-growing market globally, China represents the most important and exciting opportunity ahead of us," Howard Schultz, Starbucks' president and CEO, told company employees and their families in Chengdu, according to a statement. "Over time, it's conceivable that China could become our largest market.''
Currently, the U.S. is No. 1, with 12,531 Starbucks stores as of the end of the fourth quarter. But the coffee company has more than 2,000 locations in nearly 100 cities in China. And in the last two years, Starbucks has also introduced some innovative concepts there, such as 45 specialty shops that focus on rare coffees, and "pour-over slow bars'' located in 150 stores.
In the U.S., the coffee giant has been looking into new ways to ramp up convenience for its customers. It rolled out a mobile order and payment app last year at over 7,400 company-owned stores so that patrons can order and pay for beverages without waiting in line. And it has piloted a delivery service, with options available through a specific website.
Worldwide, the company has more than 23,000 retail stores in 68 countries.