Tough Love For Starbucks


It’s been almost two years since Starbucks jumped into the deep waters of social media with their program. This is a website where customers submit and discuss ideas on ways Starbucks can improve its business.

Over 80,000 ideas have been submitted and late last year, Starbucks informed us over 50 ideas from customers have been implemented. Cool. Sounds great. Sounds impactful.

But wait, let’s take a closer look at these customer-driven ideas Starbucks has “implemented.”


Of the 53 ideas Starbucks has “implemented,” my closer look reveals only a handful of ideas, SIX to be exact, can be truly credited to customers. Many ideas Starbucks claims to have implemented from customers are either recycled products/programs Starbucks has done in the past or were clearly in the pipeline long before the customer idea was submitted.

For example, Starbucks credits a customer idea for the Splash Sticks (#1 on the list) they offer customers to help ensure coffee doesn’t spill out of the plastic lid. Reality is this idea was being done in Japan months before its introduction into the North American market. It’s not a customer-generated idea because this idea was already in the Starbucks product pipeline.

Starbucks also takes credit for responding to customer ideas for Free Wi-Fi access (#3). Not true. Wi-fi access at Starbucks isn’t free. There are hoops customers must jump through to get two-hours of free wi-fi a day at Starbucks. First hoop is to have a Starbucks Card. Second hoop is a minimum balance must be kept on the card. Third hoop is the card must have been used within 30-days. Then and only then can a Starbucks customer get “free” wi-fi. It’s fine for Starbucks to put restrictions on wi-fi access. It’s not fine to claim it listened to customers and now offers free wi-fi. It ain’t free if you have to jump through hoops and spend money.

Starbucks takes credit for selling Reusable Cold Cups (#7, #30) because of a customer submitted idea. Hard to give credit to the customer idea for something that has long been part of the Starbucks merchandise mix. Starbucks has sold Cold Cups for years in all sorts of styles, colors, etc. They’re called Travel Tumblers and these cups can keep cold coffee cold and hot coffee hot.

Same goes for giving credit to a customer idea spurring Starbucks to sell Venti-sized Travel Tumblers (#25, #53). Starbucks has sold such a product for over a decade.

Starbucks also claims to have responded to the customer idea of bringing back Chantico Drinking Chocolate (#15). Try ordering Chantico today at Starbucks and all you’ll get are blank stares because Starbucks doesn’t sell drinking chocolate. What Starbucks has done is reformulated its hot chocolate beverage to contain more dark chocolate. The company can’t take credit for bringing back Chantico when all it did was reformulate its hot cocoa recipe.

The most popular customer-generated idea is to offer “Great Conversations” (#14) by promoting community to foster in-store discussions between customers at Starbucks. Nice idea. Starbucks takes credit for implementing this idea by offering the GOOD Sheet. The GOOD Sheet you ask? It’s a pamphlet from the publishers of GOOD magazine discussing issues of cultural and societal importance. Good luck finding it at Starbucks these days, it might be discontinued, and better luck experiencing lively discussions between customers about the GOOD Sheet.

Starbucks has responded to the customer ideas for offering healthier pastries which include: More Whole Grains (#8), Increase Healthy Options (#37), Gluten-Free Packaged Food (#27), Healthy High Protein Breakfast (#9), Gluten-Free Options (#10), and Vegan Options (#11). Notice any redundancies in the ideas? Of these six implemented ideas, I’ll credit Starbucks for implementing three of them (Increase Healthy Options, Gluten-Free Options, and High Protein Breakfast).

Furthermore, of the 53 ideas “implemented,” Starbucks takes credit for the ideas from Starbucks partners (employees) submissions. (Starbucks has an intra-company version of the MyStarbucksIdea website for partner submitted ideas.) Many of these ideas from store partners are worthwhile, but almost none of them impact the customer experience. Electronic Pay Stubs (#2), Discounted Work Wear (#6), and Employee Discount at (#13) are some of these worthwhile ideas that have no impact on the customer experience. Because they have no impact from a customer perspective, Starbucks shouldn’t include these ideas in their tally.

If we delete the customer ideas Starbucks already had in motion, the ideas Starbucks incorrectly takes credit for implementing, and the employee ideas … then we are left with only SIX ideas implemented. And of these SIX ideas, none can be considered as having significant impact on the Starbucks business.

1. Increase Healthy Options (#37)
2. Gluten-Free Options (#10)
3. High Protein Breakfast (#9)
4. Free Coffee On Your Birthday (#19)
5. Bring Back Yukon Blend (#39)
6. Shipping to Military addresses ( (#45)

My tough love for Starbucks is this: Don’t declare you’re going to be a different kind of company by getting customer input when you aren’t going to use it. It’s cheating to match programs/products you already have in the pipeline with the ideas submitted by customers. It’s also cheating to declare you’ve implemented customer ideas when clearly, you haven’t. Starbucks is too smart a company to cheat. So don’t.