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Starbucks Doesn't Get It
Old 02-27-2008, 03:33 PM   #1
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Starbucks Doesn't Get It

This is probably out of place on this forum, but on the off chance there are others here who are generally frugal but still enjoy some frivolous treats like Starbucks, here it is. I have been going to Starbucks several times a week for years and watched them change. There was novelty, high quality (for the mainstream at least), a nice atmosphere and excellent, welcoming service and it became fashionable/hip - and people were willing to pay a premium for that package. But they've lost sales rapidly to DD and McD and last night they shut down all their stores for 3 hours to rededicate themselves to quality. Anyone think their quality has changed significantly if at all?

I go to Starbucks locally a lot and in many cities and airports as I travel, and what they've lost in droves IMHO is the service aspect. The baristas used to seem to take pride in their product and they were extremely attentive to each customer - always. Most Starbucks employees today are simply fast food workers. Now they take an order, push a button and 'have a nice day' customer 42,566 today! They push products you don't want (and then ask you again after you've said no once) and ignore waiting customers now like any fast food place, I could go on and on with examples. It wasn't like that at the beginning and people aren't going to pay Starbucks a premium to be treated just like they would be at DD, McD or any other fast food place. I know I've had enough and now go there on an exception basis. If something doesn't change I'll probably stop altogether. It was great while it lasted, but I think they've lost their way...
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Old 02-27-2008, 04:30 PM   #2
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For LYBM reasons I seldom if ever go to Starbucks, although there is one right next door to my workplace.

Here, I think they were always as you described. Sort of like a McDonald's in so many negative ways. Plus, their coffee was ridiculously overpriced. Granted, that was based on just a few visits since I was never a "regular" there.

To get what you are talking about (service, quality, pleasant atmosphere) on the rare occasion when I would loosen the pursestrings, I would go to local coffee places but not to a national chain like that. Maybe you will find what you want by doing the same?
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Old 02-27-2008, 04:33 PM   #3
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I liked Jay Leno's joke the other day:

Starbucks now has a coffee drink for $1. They haven't named it yet because they haven't found the Italian word for "thimble."
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Old 02-27-2008, 04:44 PM   #4
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For LYBM reasons I seldom if ever go to Starbucks, although there is one right next door to my workplace.

Here, I think they were always as you described. Sort of like a McDonald's in so many negative ways. Plus, their coffee was ridiculously overpriced. Granted, that was based on just a few visits since I was never a "regular" there.

To get what you are talking about (service, quality, pleasant atmosphere) on the rare occasion when I would loosen the pursestrings, I would go to local coffee places but not to a national chain like that. Maybe you will find what you want by doing the same?
Unfortunately the local places are an hour away from where I live, so I don't get to them often, but they are superior. However, Starbucks was the best mainstream provider IMHO and their service was truly nothing like fast food places years ago - they never would have succeeded with their prices if they were. I don't have anything invested, just sad to see them lose their way, but I will sleep fine.
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Old 02-27-2008, 04:46 PM   #5
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I'm not a Starbucks regular, but go there occasionally because a relative gives me gift cards. I never understood what their draw was, having enjoyed coffee in Seattle before Starbucks was Starbucks. Their brew is bitter for my taste.
OTOH, they can probably coast for quite a while on recognition factor alone. I happened to be with a local friend in a huge mall in Lima, Peru, and he took us to a Starbucks! The baristas were friendly and spoke perfect English. It was no big deal for me, but it seemed like Lima locals enjoyed the American atmosphere as something different.
For me, I go to a local coffeehouse with a real espresso machine for my once a week coffee date with DH.
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Old 02-27-2008, 05:00 PM   #6
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With all due respect (sincerely), I was looking for a discussion on what changed to turn Starbucks US fortunes, not who likes what or whether it's worth it or not. But interesting observations nonetheless...
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Old 02-27-2008, 05:17 PM   #7
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I think you nailed it. They have realized there is a problem, but I don't think they understand what the problem is. I go to Starbucks 3 or more times per week. Im a coffeeholic. The experience is lousy, the people don't care, the coffee is good, but over-priced and I am belittled for ordering 'just coffee'. My local store always has six people working and conversing with each other, but never more than 3 customers being served at once (including the drive-thru). Its dysfunctional. I just looked at thier website and it is not clear exactly what the training is for, but there is a reference to 'the art of expresso' so I do not expect it will benefit folks like me that just want a good, convenient cup of coffee. I like DD and the new McD brew also, but we have a new little cafe in town that's going to be my spot........they have a newspaper archive and the coffee is self service so at least I can sip my coffee while waiting to pay.
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Old 02-27-2008, 05:59 PM   #8
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Midpack, what a timely question since I just finished a book entitled Starbucked:

Amazon.com: Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture: Taylor Clark: Books

I think you'd enjoy it. It describes the origins and culture and anticipated future of SB.

And definitely, the quality/consistency has gone down as they open more and more outlets. The author discussed this. The founder was quite concerned about quality but with the amount of growth that occurred, it is harder to regulate. SB employees aren't tarined as well as they used to be. The drinks are less "hand-made" and more automated, which should help consistency, but supposedly more is needed than just pressing a button.

SB was known for being the best employer around (giving health insurance to part-timers) but now there seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction and seeing it as just a low-paying job and not a calling.

What I found so interesting in the book was the author's analysis of how SB went from a prestigious, hip product to one that is so common as to lose the luxury and status that it once had (the book notes that SB is never discounted so that people will always feel that they have a special, valuable product.

And it's such a mixed bag----SB is all over the world now and some people think it's too much globalization but there is no denying that people all over the world want it. The author explains how SB actually helps local coffeeshops and doesn't put them out of business.

I still like SB about once or twice a week for the product as well as what the author describes as a "third space"---a place to hang out besides w*rk or home. But definitely it has lost some of its mystique (as you see eight year olds sipping frappucinos!) and some of its quality of employees and drinks and pastries. Since I have lattes which are really more milk than coffee, I'm not really qualified to comment on the quality of the coffee beans. But recently, when going on a rampage against high fructose corn syrup in so many products, I researched SB and they are still using good old sugar, which is more expensive. So you have to give them credit for that!
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Old 02-27-2008, 06:24 PM   #9
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One of the things I've seen in the last couple of years is the change in the furnishings inside Starbucks stores. The seating is less comfortable, new builds are noisy and in general - the cafe atmosphere is gone. I can't imagine why anyone would want to sit and hang out. Without the cafe aspect - they are just another coffee shop.
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Old 02-27-2008, 07:50 PM   #10
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Old 02-27-2008, 07:54 PM   #11
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I think it is the age old struggle to find and retain good help. Plus, the perception was that they were someplace special to work and someplace special to get coffee, and now that they are everywhere, Starbucks is more like a McDonalds and not so special.
I don't think they can fix it, and sadly, I don't think it will matter in the current culture.
You know, though, they haven't built a moat around the business, and there could be another up-and-coming company that identifies and capitalizes on this shortcoming. Or maybe customer service just isn't worth the cost in this internet age....cue the Cute Fuzzy One for some commentary and examples!
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:07 PM   #12
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I don't think SB is alone with this problem. Maybe it's just me but I don't think you get the same quality service you used to get at all types of businesses. From retail to restaurants to hospitals,etc. I was at Macy's the other day and a sales person approached me and instead of asking if they could help me with anything they just asked, " You want to buy that?"
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:18 PM   #13
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Over the years there have been many reports of Starbuck's demise. I am not saying it won't happen but I do believe that the present CEO will do all in his power to re-brand the business.
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:32 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Midpack View Post
With all due respect (sincerely), I was looking for a discussion on what changed to turn Starbucks US fortunes, not who likes what or whether it's worth it or not. But interesting observations nonetheless...
I have so many good Mom and Pop espresso bars around my home that I almost never go to Starbucks. But I stopped going often even before I moved to the city, when Starbucks changed over to automated machines. The coffee quality took a huge drop right then.

When I do go I think the baristas are still cute and friendly-a lot friendlier than the tatoo covered woman with a pound of stainless steel hanging from her eyebrows who makes coffee at a typical neighborhood spot. Of course if one of these gals is friendly it means she likes you, not that she just went to training and will get fired if she doesn't smile, so that might be worth something.

But Mom and Pop coffee is better-plus as someone mentioned earlier the shop will be warmer, the decor not so corporate-- so the overall experience is more comfortable than at Starbucks even ignoring the higher quality coffee. I was talking to a Starbucks barista once about their losses in coffee quality, and she said that so few people drink it straight that it just isn't noticed. It is only coffee flavoring for sugared and fruit flavored hot milk.

I LBYM by avoiding boats and stuff like that. Espresso shops, nice bars, etc. are well within my budget. In fact I just brought home a nice single malt for a little treat later on.

Ha
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:36 PM   #15
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Simple cost cutting. Everythings been trimmed so much around the edges that there isnt much left in the middle.
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:45 PM   #16
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Over the years there have been many reports of Starbuck's demise. I am not saying it won't happen but I do believe that the present CEO will do all in his power to re-brand the business.
Reminds me of the semi-decennial reports of McDonald's demise, too...
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Fast Food Tech
Old 02-27-2008, 08:48 PM   #17
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Fast Food Tech

Not to distract from the Starbucks theme, but the references to retaining employees and fast food tech, reminded me of this story, which I found amazing. This system at some Wendy's drive thru locations connects customers to the pickup window via a call center in another state (not India, yet):

Behind the Scenes: Companies at the Heart of Everyday Life, Productivity/Time Management Article - Inc. Article
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Old 02-28-2008, 12:06 AM   #18
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My local Starbucks is fabulous -- I know everyone by name and they know me. They are always nice and they start working on my "usual" the minute I come through the door. One of them discusses politics with me, another is teaching me Tagalog. They do great foam. I like going there a lot.

They seem to treat everyone else well too.

From what I see the company has been following the typical trajectory -- they've grown until they've saturated the market -- there's actually a street corner in SF from which I can see FOUR Starbucks!!! At this point in their life cycle they have made so much money that major competition from McDonald's is jumping in. I just wonder what took Mickey D's so long.

I'm looking forward to a price war and a cheaper latte -- not holding my breath though.
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Old 02-28-2008, 12:59 AM   #19
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Always good service for me at my Starbucks.

My problem was paying 5 bucks for a 1k calorie coffee that was making me gain weight.
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Old 02-28-2008, 06:50 AM   #20
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I think most of it here has been covered, but here is what has dulled the experience for me. I still go 5 or so times a week because it's a good place to stop and get out of the office for a few.

1. When they went to automated machines. It takes some skill to make espresso from a manual machine and do it well. Also, it just isn't a coffeehouse without the sounds of the grounds being banged out.

2. All these stupid drinks. 90% of the time I'm in starbucks I order a venti drip coffee. The other 10% I will have a latte or espresso. I can't stand going into the shop and being stuck behind all these teenage girls ordering drinks with 10 different variations. It sounds stupid, and it takes away from the experience for the other customers. It's even more disgusting to see a grown man order a venti half calf carmel frappucino with extra whip cream and sprinkles. He's probably the kind of guy who goes to a sports bar with his friends and orders a pina colada.
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