Like most businesses in these lean economic times, Starbucks is suffering a bit of a profit loss. Ron Lieber of the New York Times thinks he has a solution to this: start treating the customers who spend the most money there like the special, overcaffeinated snowflakes they are.
…not all Starbucks stores participate in the rewards program, like the licensed stores in airports, casinos and many other locations. This is madness. If the sign says Starbucks, you ought to be able to get your perks. Period…rewards are nice, but recognition is better. So if I’m one of Starbucks’s best customers, I want to have elite status, as I do on American Airlines. I want shorter lines, better freebies, special seating (Aeron chairs, preferably) and electrical outlets reserved just for me and my laptop.
As with cell phones and iPods, I was a latecomer to the Starbucks phenomenon. I’m not a coffee drinker, and I’ve never been impressed with the word “gourmet.” Once “gourmet” started being attached to items like popcorn and jellybeans, the word was rendered meaningless, like “extreme” and “edgy.” For a long time Starbucks to me meant annoying yuppies spending too much money on something that could be easily replicated at home. Then I broke down and tried one of their blended creme drinks, and I was sold. Their chai latte is pretty damn awesome too, and by admitting that I probably have to turn in my Fight Club superfan membership card, but oh well, I like IKEA too. I wouldn’t say I’m one of Starbucks’ best customers, but I’m in one fairly often, maybe a few times a month or so. None of the perks on their rewards card apply to me–again, I don’t drink coffee, and I can’t imagine needing to spend more than two hours in any Starbucks to use their Wi-Fi service–but that’s fine, I don’t automatically demand that any business owes me more than their product and acceptable customer service for my money.
I can’t really see how Lieber surmises that the best way for Starbucks to improve profits is to offer special treatment to those who clearly still have the money to frequently patronize them, especially right now. How about they find a way to bring back the people who had to cut out their daily Frappuccino because they just can’t afford such an indulgence anymore? Preferred seating? Special lines that you don’t have to wait in with the unwashed masses? Is it really a wise business tactic to further emphasize the difference between the haves and the have-nots, especially when the ranks of the latter group grow bigger every day? I hate to break it to Mr. Lieber, but nobody is all that impressed anymore about the idea that airlines still offer special perks to its first class passengers, especially when the rest of us in economy can’t even get a blanket. So you spend a lot of money at Starbucks, good for you. I spend a lot of money at Barnes & Noble, I don’t expect that every fourth book or so I buy should be given to me for free, or that I should be given special opportunity to purchase an item before it’s released to the rest of the public. Would it be nice? Sure. But to insist upon, to demand that you get preferential treatment simply for making the decision to buy coffee or not buy coffee on any given day, is rather ludicrous, and certainly inappropriate given the dreary economic outlook.
If Starbucks’ profits are suffering right now, it’s likely due to oversaturation. There are at least two places in Manhattan with Starbucks stores on the same block, in clear view of each other. There are shopping malls with multiple Starbucks in them. If you closed down half the Starbucks in any given major city, there’d still be too many Starbucks. Then again, for people like Ron Lieber, having to walk more than fifteen feet to their local Starbucks wouldn’t make them feel like their patronage was being appreciated.