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Do You Dislike Starbucks As Much I Do? This Brand is Eroding My Great Loyalty To It.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on July 31, 2007

Yet another bad Starbucks experience today. Higher prices. For worse service. It’s one thing to boost your prices if you are delivering a good experience but this isn’t the case with Starbucks. At least not my Starbucks in and around NYC.

So today I go in around 8:45AM for an ice coffee. Nothing fancy. The one line is really long. I loved it when there were two or three lines because I usually just order a simple drink. Now I have to wait for all that complex stuff to be made and served.

OK. As I get to the front of the line, the Starbuckians are talking away—but to whom? They have these headphones on and you don’t know if they are talking to you, to themselves or just yakking into space. They don’t make eye contact with me and its confusing.

I finally get the attention of one Starbuckian by getting in her face. She gets mad of course. It is rude. Then she charges me more for the coffee, announcing that prices are going up—although not as much as the newspapers have suggested. That didn’t exactly molify me.

I wait for the ice coffee but don’t know where to stand. Sometimes they hand it to me where the cash registers are and sometimes I have to move into the crowd waiting for lattes. I wait and I wait. Until one of the other customers tells me that the ice coffee is sitting on the counter out of my sight. How long it was sitting there, I don’t know.

Then the 2% milk was empty.

Not a good consumer experience.

Contrast that to the Peet’s treatment I received in Portland over the weekend in the Hawthorne district. That was so great. No long long line. Terrific new blend of coffee of the day, served up just right. Nice conversation across the counter. Some extra milk for the organic cereal a friend had brought along. Table by the window.

And some gossip about how Starbucks bought up a small independent chain of local Portland coffee houses and closed it to end the competition. I don’t know if this is true but the mere fact that it was repeated to me says something about Starbucks reputation.

The Starbucks brand value rose from 91 to 88 on the latest list of the Top 100 Brands that just came out from Business Week and Interbrand. Judged by my own experience with poorer service and higher prices Starbucks is a brand cruising on past reputation, not current performance.

Where’s the nearest Peet’s?

Reader Comments

Celeste Spencer

July 31, 2007 9:48 PM

I couldn't agree more! I've always preferred Peet's to Stabucks. The folks at Peet's seem to be more highly trained, more customer-orientated and just plain seem to like their jobs more. Maybe because they aren't innundated by the large numbers of customers that Starbucks is? It seems to me that Starbucks is having difficulty keeping up with its own infrastructure (empty milk jugs etc.)
And a side note on the inability to make eye contact on the server's part - I'm on the west coast and I notice that happening more and more in many of the lower wage job roles. Perhaps the turnover is simply too great to train them all properly?


August 1, 2007 1:02 AM

The Fillmore district in San Francisco has a Starbucks, Peet's, Royal Grounds, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Noah's Bagels and The Grove Cafe all within a 2 blocks of one another.

"Coffee Rotation" is essential in the quest for a quality cup of coffee experience today. Playing the odds by frequenting all of these shops rather than being a "loyal" customer that inevitably stumbles onto the "familiarity breeds contempt" maxim such as outlined in your post, will result in more delight and freshness of experience that we all crave.

After being away from Starbucks for a dozen or so cups of coffee, they begin to arouse curiosity again after passing by their shop, leading to an inevitable delightful experience due to change over time. Starbucks is the "Shanghai" of coffee, so they can afford to abuse their customers from time to time without brand degredation.

Stephen Macklin

August 1, 2007 1:16 AM

I have two real problems with Starbucks. The silly pretentious names for coffee sizes. And their coffee sucks.

I think the reason they sell many hyper-sweetened latte concoctions is that people can't stand the taste of the coffee but they want to be seen with the logo on their cup.

I like a large cup of decent - not burnt tasting - black coffee.


August 1, 2007 6:48 AM

And what about the loud, bar music they play nowadays there? Drives me nuts!

A better choice is Seattle Best Coffee; coffee tastes better and their music is at a lower volume. Or Panera Bread, has everything Starbucks offers (except for those expensive espresso makers) plus some real food.


August 1, 2007 11:36 AM

the brand holder have good rule to serve consumer, but the waiter, maybe they don't think so.i guess they will think: we are big brand, and who are u.
so i trust that atitude is everythink, take the consumer as you friends, your business will grows up


August 1, 2007 4:29 PM

Starbucks would be much better off by franchising. Ownership has a way of rectifying customer issues.

Brett Macfarlane

August 1, 2007 11:24 PM

Agree on Peets being superior. You get the sense that they stay true to their core product and love; roasting great beans. The beans in store are always fresh and there is always an employee who is the master beansman, or beanswoman, to recommend a roast and give the full background as to where it came from and other goodies. It actually feels more wordly than a Starbucks. Kudos for them not making growth their mission, and instead great coffee.


August 3, 2007 3:55 PM

You got it right about the venerable local chain in Portland falling to Starbucks - and it's not the first time that's happened. Why isn't there room for everyone?


August 4, 2007 7:26 PM

Only good thing at Starbucks is the chocolate covered coffee beans. Their coffee tastes like mud and their prices are pretentious. They have a great marketing machine, otherwise, i really don´t understand why people go there and spend $5 on a bucket of crappy coffee.


August 6, 2007 6:34 PM

The story sounds like a comparison between Starbucks in New York and a Peets in Portland... hardly a fair comparison, because *everyone* in New York is rude, at least in service situations. I've lived in New York for three years now, so I expect it and don't let it rattle me, but you can go anywhere else in the country and people will be nicer... the smaller the town, the nicer the people in service situations, I've found.

Bruce Nussbaum

August 6, 2007 6:47 PM

Fair comment. People are certainly friendly and life is slower in Portland. But I used to get great service at my (see, I'm using "my") Starbucks, despite it being near Times Square in NYC. It's the push-through of more products, the introduction of a single line for customers and those weird headsets that employees wear to make them more "efficient," that is driving me nuts--and out the door of Starbucks.

Adam Richardson

August 7, 2007 12:04 AM

Your last line says it all I think: they are cruising on reputation, and that means they are on borrowed time unless they enact a turn-around. For myself I definitely prefer Peets - not only are the roasts better, but they don't overheat the water and burn the coffee, which is my typical experience with Starbucks drip. And Peets' espresso will put hair on your chest. And the staff actually know how to foam milk properly.

BTW, Jacob, Seattle's Best is owned by Starbucks I believe...

About a year ago I wrote about how Starbucks should be worried because their experience is getting eroded at the edges - airports, bookstores, etc. - but it is now hitting their core stores as well. Not a good sign.

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