Examining the Distribution of Starbucks in ArcGIS Online

Maps, tools, and applications in ArcGIS Online continue to expand, affording exciting new opportunities for teaching and learning.  One of the new maps highlights the new capability of generating “heat maps” by showing the distribution of Starbucks coffee locations.  The map is quick to load but contains 18,680 Starbucks around the world.  The points are grouped at a small scale, for analyzing regional and continental patterns, and at a large scale, for analyzing patterns within a metropolitan area.  Examine this map via the above link, shown below, guiding students through inquiry using some of the following questions followed by investigations.

Does the pattern of Starbucks in Manhattan surprise you?  What are some of the reasons for the spatial pattern?  How do the number and pattern compare to other boroughs of New York City, to your own city, and to other cities around the world?   What are some factors that explain how Starbucks determines where to locate?  How do these factors and the spatial pattern compare to other coffee-oriented businesses, and to other food-related businesses, and to non-food businesses?

Make the two heat maps associated with the Starbucks locations at the two different scales visible.  A heat map is another way to visualize data, creating a “density surface” of the points, with brighter oranges and yellows indicating a higher density, and greens and blues indicating a lower density.  What are the differences between the heat maps at the two different scales?  How does the heat map help you understand the clustering of the Starbucks locations?  Starting in March 2015, you can now easily create heatmaps of any point data using ArcGIS online.

This map isn’t a fabrication created for educational use:  Indeed, Starbucks uses Esri GIS solutions at many levels and for many reasons, from managing its suppliers to packaging operations to selecting optimal retail outlet sites.  During the unit where you and your students are exploring the map, you could show this video from the Esri User Conference where Starbucks GIS analysts explain why and how they use Esri GIS technology to make their business more efficient and sustainable.   For more detail,  your students could read and reflect upon this article in Forbes written about how big data helps retailers like Starbucks pick store locations.

A related mapping application in the “coolmaps” gallery allows you to filter stores by the average income in neighborhoods in San Francisco, California, and to buffer the most effective distance for a mobile “coupon” message to potential customers.  If you are interested in analyzing patterns of other businesses, the locations of thousands of businesses are included in the Esri online products Business Analyst, Business Analyst Online, and Community Analyst.

How might you use these maps and resources in your own teaching?

Starbucks in New York City - points and heatmap

Starbucks in New York City – locations and heatmap.

Joseph Kerski

About Joseph Kerski

Joseph Kerski is a geographer who believes that spatial analysis through digital mapping can transform education and society through better decision-making using the geographic perspective. He serves on the Esri education team and is active in GIS communication and outreach, creates GIS-based curriculum, conducts research in the effectiveness of GIS in education, teaches online and face-to-face courses on spatial thinking and analysis, and fosters partnerships to support GIS in formal and informal education at all levels, internationally. He is the co-author of Spatial Mathematics, The Essentials of the Environment, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, and other books. Follow him on Twitter @josephkerski
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