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Starbucks Innovates And Gets It Right.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 10, 2008

I’ve been hard on Starbucks lately for the disappointing service but the coffee chain introduced a new product/service recently that is superb. The little green swizzle stick-stopper that plugs the hole in the lid is pure genius. It solves a problem by stopping the cup from spilling hot coffee on your hand as you walk. It ends the need for a flat lid that doesn’t have that hole, thus saving the planet from more throw-away garbage while saving Starbucks money as well. And it looks kinda cute, with the mermaid at the top.

It doesn’t take millions to create a better consumer experience. In fact, you can save millions by designing one. Now, how did Starbucks come up with this innovation? Did it do vast amounts of anthropological research on customers scorching themselves walking out of stores? Or did some employee come up with the idea?

Reader Comments


April 10, 2008 4:38 PM


dennis costa

April 10, 2008 9:22 PM

Our coffee shop has been putting stick stoppers on cups for two years. Hello Starbucks!!


April 10, 2008 9:42 PM

There is a great buzz in the blogsphere about how Starbucks lost it’s ‘cool’. Personally, I think it’s not my coffee shop of choice. There is a Starbucks about 5 min from where I live, which I’ve never visit. I prefer to go to a small, friendly and cosy local café just on the opposite side of the road. Why? Funny enough, because I can get the experience that Starbucks used (and promised) to offer on the early days.

Starbucks need to reinvent themselves. They’ve just launched My Starbucks Idea, a social forum to enable them to listen to the customers’ voice, get some really good customer-driven insight and co-create a new service. Why bother with CSI, KPIs and all of that? Great idea!


Steve Portigal

April 10, 2008 9:43 PM

I haven't seen this yet, but here's an example from Japan that might be interesting/relevant

Dan Lewis

April 11, 2008 1:48 PM

Solo and others have had lids that close the hole for years -- Bruce, you spend too much time in Starbucks.


April 14, 2008 6:11 AM

I'm not 100 percent sure, but I noticed this idea on Starbucks idea website where people can go on and give them ideas to improve starbucks. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this idea came from feedback on the website.

jan wimer

April 15, 2008 2:35 AM

Are you sure that we can claim invention of the splash stick? I have seen it advertised in many trade magazines in past years??? Jan

Sarah Samyn

April 16, 2008 10:42 AM

Didn't Dunkin Donuts re-invent their lid about 2 yeras ago to incorporate this feature...the lid just snaps back on when needed?!? And this was posted by an individual on the Starbucks idea website. Just make it that starbucks green and now it's their idea...


April 16, 2008 1:06 PM

C'mon... Starbucks didn't invent the Splash stick. These have been around way before Bux picked them up. Is anyone considering the environmental impact of adding another piece of plastic to our waste stream?

Snarky Blog Commenter 655321

April 16, 2008 7:19 PM

Generic remark about how everything and anything Starbucks has ever done / ever will do has probably already been done by some other independent coffee company and if only they would just quit and close up shop, all of the world's problems would go away; that is, until some other independent coffee shop becomes ubiquitous enough to become "the new Starbucks."

John in Morrisville NC

April 19, 2008 12:41 PM

Brother.....the CEO's EGO must be bigger than the faultering Airline Industry. Let's see...the sticks were just lying around waiting for Starbucks to do something with them. I've seen these sticks for a few years. Even the local coffee shop I regularly buy from (Hammocks), has had these for about two years now. Even better, they have one's that you CAN SIP from. Great when driving. NEVER have to take your OTHER hand off the wheel to pull the 'stick'.
Get with it....your not alone.


matt anthony

April 20, 2008 4:18 AM

Perhaps this is a bit off topic, but I've noticed that a number of Starbucks around me do not have any non to-go cups. Does this seem strange to anyone else? Obviously there is a large waste issue here, but especially with a Cappuccino, the shape of the to-go cup isnt very ideal to even get at the foam And there is just something quality feeling about drinking out of a real ceramic cup if you are sitting and thinking or working.
About the stores and Starbuck's percieved decline: Its obvious they have been doing alright by there current model if they keep doing it and more and more people buy the coffee and continue to buy it on a regular basis. I can't say that I like it, but it works for them. Perhaps what they need is at least 1 per every 4 Starbucks that is a "real" coffeehouse atmosphere, that answers all the issues that coffee snobs usually hate about Starbucks. The other locations can act the same as usual, catering to the average person who doesn't have time to care about how they are getting their double grande whatever mocha, so much as they get it and are one their way. I dunno...maybe that doesn't fully solve a brand image problem for a company as large as Starbucks, but just throwing it out there.

Snarky Blog Commenter 526849

April 21, 2008 3:21 AM

How dare Starbucks make mainstream use out of something that, up until previously, wasn't all that mainstream at all? Way to be creative, Starbucks. And now I understand they have *napkins* at all of their stores. Way to rip off every other coffeeshop across the Continental US, Howard Schultz. Are those *paper cups* I see? I know at least five independent coffee shops that have been using cups for *years*. Get over yourself, Starbucks. Hell, Starbucks shouldn't even call themselves 'Starbucks Coffee Company'. They didn't even *invent* coffee.

Christ, why can't Starbucks just close up shop and let some other far more deserving coffee shops have some success; at least, until those coffee shops become the next Starbucks. Then it's off to the forums to complain about how unoriginal they all are or how much they charge for their coffee and how, if they'd only follow our carefully mapped out amateur business models, they'd be the most successful coffee company in the history of the coffee industry.

Starbucks is killing us

April 21, 2008 2:22 PM

And the plastic "splash stick" that Starbucks uses id probably made of the same plastic (#6-PS) that their lids are made of. The plastic with Bisphenol-A that leaches chemicals into our drinks (especially hot drinks). Thanks for the cancer, Starbucks!

Rob Trent

April 22, 2008 10:29 PM

Why all the negative comments? I don't care where Starbucks got the idea. The Spash Stick is the greatest idea since sliced bread. No more hot spills or wasted coffee from falling over cups as I commute. The money saved in drycleaning alone will pay for many, many cups of my favorite blend. Keep up the good work, Starbucks! You've got a real winner!

Starbucks person

April 23, 2008 5:11 PM

Ok, so all this environmental talk has me wondering; if you are so caring about the environment why don't you buy a cup? All Starbucks' will fill any cup you bring in. Whether it is one with the lid from Starbucks or somewhere else, which coincidentally has a stopper on it **GASP** so that the spilling is minimal, it keeps the drink warm, it is good for the environment because you are not getting yet ANOTHER paper cup then inevitably throwing it away, and of course the bonus of saving ten cents when you buy a beverage. Or you could go the china cup way and buy or bring in one of those. They, like the to go mugs, also keep more of the paper cups out of the landfills, and for the cappuccino lovers its the perfect way to get to the luscious foam. Starbucks really isn't a public enemy people they are just another coffee company who actually do something in the global community to try and make the world a bit of a better, brighter place for everyone; not just the CEOs.

Snarky Blog Commenter 938532

April 24, 2008 7:07 PM

Clearly, without any substantial evidence, Starbucks is underpaying farmers, underpaying their employees, overcharging for their coffee, poisoning their customers with splash sticks made from Bisphenol-A (splash sticks which couldn't possibly have been tested by the FDA or any other governmental organization that would verify whether or not they were safe for beverage use), and are incapable of any original ideas. In fact, if we persist in huffing paint and then talking about Starbucks, I'm confident we can conclude that Starbucks is probably to blame for World War I and II, for the Vietnam War, for the Great Depression of 1929, for the current rising prices of gas, for all crises of faith, and for any future problems that America experiences. Why Starbucks can't just give up and close up shop is beyond me.

anna simmons

April 25, 2008 7:01 PM

Why don't people just bring in their aluminum coffee mugs for filling instead of continuing the pollution issue with wasteful 1-use only paper/plastic cups?

James Crecente

April 28, 2008 3:45 PM

Sad to say, Anna, because environmental sustainability just isn't always a high-ranking priority in the minds of most customers. Or perhaps, more accurately, it's that environmental sustainability isn't a *convenient* high-ranking priority. When they feel they *have* the time, these people might pitch in and clean up a street or volunteer some time for Earth Day but little things like bringing in a tumbler / permanent coffee mug doesn't really fall under their radar; their justification generally being "When I'm done with my coffee, I want to be able to throw the cup away and be done with it; I don't want to have to clean my mug / tumbler or carry it around with me all day long"

James Crecente

May 2, 2008 3:04 PM

Unfortunately, because *consumers* don't prioritize environmental sustainability, 9 out of 10 anonymous internet whiners simply blame the companies that serve them; hence, Starbucks is suddenly Public Enemy Number 1 because they introduce something as innocuous as splash sticks. Never mind that they've done all sorts of *other* things for the environment, such as cups made of 10% post-recyclable material (Whatever happened to "every little bit counts"?) or employees from their stores voluntarily going out and cleaning up local neighborhoods - no, the introduction of plash sticks is clearly the singing of the song which will begin Armageddon.

Starbucks Supporter

May 19, 2008 6:21 PM

Obviously Snarky Blog Commenter 938532, you absolutley know nothing about Starbucks and the way that the partners and farmers are treated. Starbucks is one of the few, if not the only company in the US that provides great pay and BENEFITS to part time partners. Just 20 hours a week gets you the same great benefits package that full time partners get at the same price. Starbucks takes pride in taking care of the farmers not only with the price they are paid for their beans, but also with meeting the needs of the community through fresh water supplies, education, health, etc.. You really need to make sure you know what you are talking about before you start ranting with facts you don't know anything about.

As for the other posts that I have read above, my resonses are as follow:

As for non to go cups, All Starbucks have them, maybe at some locations, you might have to ask for them.
As for brining your own cup and having to wash it.... They will always make sure your cup is clean before they fill it. Try it some time.

Maybe most of you are just jealous that you didn't take the time to develop a company that ALL the partners take ownership in and get involved in their communities, or maybe you are at a small coffee shop that doesn't give a postive and inviting enviorment with a quality product.
Whatever your reason, get over it.

Snarky Blog Commenter Insert_Number_Here

May 26, 2008 4:33 PM

Starbucks Supporter: Your response implies that you are unfamiliar with the concept of 'satire'. Go back and read what I wrote - I'm poking fun at the members of the Anonymous Internet Community who represent the loyal opposition to Starbucks. No matter what Starbucks does, no matter how well-intentioned or how great the result, this loyal opposition persists in spewing bile. Did you not notice the part where I wrote "If we persist in huffing paint"? Huffing paint, as in sitting in a room, repeatedly inhaling fumes from cans of spray paint. Did you not notice the part about blaming Starbucks "for World War I and II, for the Vietnam War, for the Great Depression of 1929, for the current rising prices of gas, for all crises of faith, and for any future problems that America experiences"? How about the post where I suggested that Starbucks stole the idea of having napkins?

I'm not suggesting people are not allowed to hate Starbucks - if people don't care for their product, that's fine - it's when their dislike of Starbucks coffee turns into "And they're poisoning the world! And they're all Nazis! And they're stealing other peoples' ideas! And they're forcing Mom and Pop Coffee Shops to close! And they punched a baby! And they stole my lollipop!" and so forth that I have a problem with.


December 17, 2008 1:47 PM

While I agree that Bisphenol is something to be avoided, especially with hot liquids, Bisphenol is found in type 7 and type 3 plastics, not type 6. I am unfamiliar with the type of plastic used by starbucks for their drinks, but if they are type 6 plastic alone, then I wouldn't worry about any Bisphenol related illness or such.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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