Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pound of Starbucks Beans = Free Beverage... or Free Coffee?

I'm a big fan of Starbucks - that's no secret.

I don't mind the mass appeal of their products or their overcommercialized stores and brand. I still think that their concept is cool, and ubiquity is simply a product of their success and consumer demand.

Yesterday, I saw that Starbucks launched two new iPhone apps:

- Starbucks Card Mobile is an interface to reload a registered Starbucks card, check balances, and even use your iPhone as the actual card as some test locations out west (which is pretty sweet).

- myStarbucks is a pretty comprehensive app that uses GPS to locate nearby stores and give product information about practically anything they sell. Want to see which nearby locations are brewing coffee using the Clover machine? They have that.

I downloaded both apps and used Starbucks Card Mobile to reload my card with $25. It worked seamlessly, and they awarded me with an extra $5 since I used my Visa card on my first reload and they were running a promotion. Sweet, I figured. I needed to buy a pound of beans, as I was flat out.

Now, I know the rules. When I buy a pound of beans at a Starbucks, I'm entitled to a free tall beverage. I have always asked for a simple hot coffee, probably out of simplicity.

But yesterday, I felt like a pumpkin spice latte. I don't know why, I just kind of did. I was not 100% certain that more sophisticated drinks were entitled to the freebie upon purchase of beans, but figured that I would never know if I didn't ask.

So after the barista ground my beans, the exchange went something like this:

Her: "Anything else?"

Me: "Don't I get a free drink with that?"

Her: "You do if you use your Starbucks Card to purchase it"

Me: (after JUST having given her my Starbucks Card to pay for the transaction): "Good thing I did"

Her: "What would you like?"

Me: "Can I get a latte?"

Her: "No, just a coffee."

Me (not about to fight to the death...but I know she's wrong): "Why can't I get a latte?"

Her: "Because they are more expensive!"

So I settled for my tall coffee and went on my way. The first time I asked if this free beverage can be anything something other than a coffee, and I'm shot down.

But something just didn't sit well with me. Since she didn't even ask if I wanted a free beverage at the start, I think she was banking on my not knowing the rules. More times than not, when ordering beans from other Starbucks locations, I'm asked what tall beverage I would like.

So I looked up the rules at this morning, and found this:

Your Benefits

Free selected syrup and soymilk
Free brewed coffee refills
Free beverage with whole bean purchase
Free Wi-Fi up to 2 hours a day
Free beverage. Pretty vague, yes in my mind all encompassing. Even this fine print seems to support my case:

You receive one complimentary 12 fl oz beverage at time of purchase of one or more pounds of whole bean coffee. Offer valid at participating U.S./Canada stores and is subject to change.

I hate the inconsistency of Starbucks sometimes. I know it's impossible to give customers a 100% consistent experience given the vast quantity of locations and variable involved. But all I wanted was a free tall pumpkin spice latte with my pound of beans, and I left feeling bad for even asking.


Steve Peck said...

OK - Let's see if I can't straighten this out - from a Starbucks manager - but not speaking on behalf of the company. First I am going to ASSUME that your SBUX card is REGISTERED. If it's not, you are only entitled to a free tall drip coffee. If it is, you are in fact entitled to the tall drink of your choice with the purchase of a lb of WB coffee. (That's where things get confusing - 2 policies for the same thing..) All you need to do is order it with your WB purchase and the amount from the tall drink will automatically be taken off of the total. You don't even need to say anything about free anything to the barista. So go ahead and have you PSL - or better yet, a tall Clover brewed Kenya AB Auction lot - Tasty goodness!

angelok said...

Jason, you absolutely are entitled to have expect consistent service with Starbucks.

McDonald's runs a franchise business model, which gives them motivated franchise owners, but costs them control (which they still do a very good job of). That control comes out in inconsistent service and standards, because each franchise owner runs their business as they see fit.

Unlike McDonald's, Starbucks is a company store. The strength of that business model is that you can have complete control over consistency. A network of supervision and quality control assured that. But, you lose the skin in the game that franchise owners get. No matter how good the manager is, it's not his money on the line, and he does what his boss tells him.

A statement like "Offer valid at participating U.S./Canada stores and is subject to change." is terrible for a company like Startbucks. What's a participating store? It's completely under the company's control. It's not like a franchisee can decide not to participate. What it's really saying is "available only if we think we can get away with not giving it to you".