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26 August 2008

Help Us Sell You More "Coffee"

I guess Starbucks are a little worried. Impending recession in the US and the UK, as well as actually having to pay employees the tips they have earned and lawsuits, have obviously eaten into their profits as they actually start closing some stores. Crowd-sourcing, meanwhile, is all the rage these days and the most profitable of ideas could come from anywhere - from the CEO, right down to a lowly customer. Except, those little "customer feedback" forms are so 20th century; besides, people are most likely to complete them when they have had what they deem at the time to be a really bad experience (which is likely to be something pretty trivial, given a little distance, such as receiving a caramel not vanilla latte - oh noes!). The chances of a customer sitting in one of the nine trillion Starbucks and having a brilliant idea that will make Starbucks lots of money and then writing it down on the feedback form are pretty small, firstly because Starbucks are so atmosphere-free that they aren't really the most inspiring of places and secondly, where is the incentive? Even if you do write your suggestion down and it happens to be be revolutionary, someone else, somewhere along the line, will just get the credit for it.

Bearing all of this in mind, Starbucks have unleashed My Starbucks Idea, an online community where people can suggest their fantastic ideas to improve Starbucks, as well as discuss and rate other people's ideas. There are three categories of idea: products (help us find new ways to destroy a perfectly good caffeinated beverage), experience (help us streamlining the ordering process so we're less likely to fuck up and give you the wrong combination of drink options from the 1,450,344 combinations currently available) and involvement (do our marketing for us!).

There are several thousand posts in most of the sub-categories. Taking at random user Ms Texas's shockingly original idea in the "coffee and espresso drinks" sub-section of "products,":

Lower your prices
Instead of spending mucho $$ on advertising, just lower the prices a little. Old customers will return, new customers who are frightened by everyone who talks about "$5.00 for a cup of coffee!?!" will be lured in, and existing customers will feel 'special'.

Surely the customers don't want want cheaper coffee? Who'd've thunk it? Naturally, Ms Texas's suggestion is one of the most popular, with 35,000 votes. Second on the list (the list is random not popularity-based), Gailsmoo's more reasonable "free drink on your birthday" idea (3,100 votes) and in third place, Mudkip's scary suggestion of "more choice." More choice? Good god, no! I wonder how far down the list you would have to go before you found someone suggesting that they actually produce coffee that doesn't taste like mud. Given that the average 'Bucks patron probably isn't a coffee connoisseur, you'd probably have to look quite far down to find it.

Naturally, there is a long tail - many of the suggestions have only a couple of votes, while a select few make it into the tens and hundreds of thousands range - but all of these enthusiastic, motivated, internet-savvy customers are giving away stacks of valuable information that it would be very difficult to collect in any other way. Starbucks replies to let you know which ideas they are looking into (by adding a "reviewed" tag to your post, along with any feedback) and which they have implemented, and if you believe in the brand enough, you share your ideas happily and willingly because you feel that you are a part of it and want to improve the experience for yourself and for others. These are the current top ten most popular ideas:

1. Establish coffee society - stimulating chat and community among Starbucks patrons.
2. Loyalty card - buy ten, get one free.
3. Recycle old Starbucks gift cards for a small credit on your gift card.
4. Free drink on your birthday.
5. Free wi-fi.
6. Starbucks VIP card (same as #2).
7. Lower your prices.
8. Automatic ordering of your usual, customised drink by swiping your loyalty card.
9. Recycle in store.
10. Coffee ice cubes - so your already not very coffee like drink doesn't become even more watery and horrible tasting once the ice melts.

What would make your Starbucks experience perfect? We know you’ve got ideas—big ideas, little ideas, maybe even totally revolutionary ideas—and we want to hear them all. That’s why we created My Starbucks Idea. So you can share the ideas that matter to you and you can find out how we’re putting those ideas to work. Together, we will shape the future of Starbucks.

Submit your idea today and one of Starbucks's "Idea Partners" (sounds like doublespeak to me), who "have been chosen because of their level of expertise in their specific areas" ranging from "coffee to entertainment to community programs" will be ready to hear your ideas. I would hope - though not expect - that all of these Chosen Ones would have some expertise in coffee.

On a slightly separate note, I was not massively amused to see that the Grauniad's who needs a gym when you've got the great outdoors? supplement (no mention of outdoor swimming this time, though, strangely) was sponsored by Vivanno by Starbucks. Who or what the hell, is Vivanno? I wondered. From the description it sounded like a Frappuccino - but nutritional! - although they are actually coffee-free. One flavour is orange-banana-mango and the other is an incredibly healthy sounding banana chocolate. The website lists their nutritional value and - dear lord - they contain whey protein?! Oh, and you can also add a shot of espresso - to an orange, banana and mango smoothie? Do they also provide paper bags, like on planes, into which one can vomit after trying a vile combination of mango, orange, banana, whey and espressso? Maybe I should suggest this to Starbuxploitation.com. "So much more than a smoothie," they say; yes, it's also a "natural," "nutritional emetic...

I wonder which Idea Partner was responsible for this gem - or maybe it was someone who, for a joke, posted a suggestion on Starbuxploitation.com, as a joke: "Hai guys. u shud mix some OJ and banana with some protein powder adn expresso - nutritional 'n' caffeinating! call it vivanno becuase it's unlikely to survive for more than 1 anno, n all those sofisticated peepz will feel so swanky wen they order it." I guess they didn't hear that one of the most important things in fostering a community is giving people the ability to create a profile, as Netflix learnt to its cost. I haven't registered on the site so maybe you can but your personal data is only available to 'Bucks "partners" or something... Gotta hand it to them for jumping on the Wikinomics/crowd sourcing/ Innocentive/ web 2.0 band wagon, though.

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