I still remember my first cup of Starbucks coffee.
It was 2000 — the summer after my sophomore year of high school, and I was at work with my best friend Stephanie at HoneyBaked Ham. Terry, her boyfriend, came to visit her after his shift ended at Starbucks, a grande mocha in hand for both of us.
His gesture was one that resulted in thousands of dollars profit for Starbucks, something that Starbucks recognized by sending me a shiny gold card with my name on it.
I didn’t always have a Starbucks card, of course. Before I transitioned to veganism I didn’t really see the point. But one day, an awesome barista named Laura pointed out that if I got and registered a Starbucks card, both the soy milk and the peppermint syrup in my double tall soy peppermint mocha would be comped, netting me about a dollar savings per drink.
At this point in time I was hitting Starbucks at least once per day, more often twice. The savings were significant, and appreciated.
Over the years the program has expanded. Starbucks gives you a free drink on your birthday, and once every fifteen transactions. They provide free refills on brewed coffee and a free tall drink with the purchase of a pound of coffee. And, of course, members at the green and gold levels still receive free soy milk and syrup benefits.
I’m not really a member of any other rewards programs, but I always found this one to be extremely generous. When I’d visit My Starbucks Idea, however, I noticed that a lot of people didn’t really feel the same way. There were requests for stars to be counted per item purchased, not per transaction, and requests for the number of stars needed before a free drink kicked in to be scaled back from 15 to 10. I always found it really off-putting because I thought that the program was great as-is, and I posted in defense of it all the way back in July of 2011.
Now the program is changing and I’m the one complaining.
About a month ago, Starbucks announced that customers would only need 12 stars in order to receive a free beverage. They expanded this to include food items too, and they announced also that they’d be replacing the physical free drink coupons with digital ones that were linked to the Starbucks card. All good things!
However, in teeny tiny print at the bottom of the e-mail they mentioned that these benefits were going to be balanced out by the discontinuation of complimentary soy milk and customized syrup, as well as the free tall beverage with a whole bean purchase.
And for the first time, I am really disappointed with Starbucks.
What bothers me is not that they are charging for soy milk. They’ve always done that. But the problem is that they are effectively raising the price of coffee for a very specific group of customers. Casual Starbucks customers who pay with cash or credit card aren’t affected; they’d be paying extra for soy milk anyway. Starbucks rewards members who don’t drink soy milk or modify their beverage at all aren’t affected, either; nothing is changing for them.
A Starbucks rewards member who regularly orders a soy latte, however, is going to see the cost of their drink rise by $.60. If they drink a soy vanillalatte, their drink will cost $1.20 more. By the time this hypothetical Starbucks gold member purchases their “lucky dozen” beverages, they will have spent an extra $7.20 (for just soy), an extra $6.00 (for just customized syrup), or an extra $13.20 (for both). If he wanted to break even, he’d have to use his free drink coupon to purchase a beverage totaling anywhere between $6.00 and $13.20.
It wouldn’t actually be difficult at all to create a drink in the $6.00-7.20 range. A quad venti soy peppermint mocha would probably do the trick, actually. But $13.20? I don’t know.
That’s kind of beside the point though.
I feel like my patronage doesn’t matter to Starbucks anymore — or won’t, as of tomorrow. And that’s fine, because tomorrow I will begin doing two things: I will be taking my business elsewhere, and I will be making my own coffee. And I won’t be doing either of those things happily, because I love Starbucks. I specifically love myStarbucks and the people who work there. I am so, so sad about this boycott, but I can’t — I just can’t, conscientiously, support a business that cares so little about its loyal customers. (Furthermore, I am not the only one boycotting, and I’m not the only one sad about it, either.)
I would like to mention, additionally, that even though this new policy upsets me, it doesn’t affect me, really. I drink brewed coffee with just a tiny bit of soy milk added — Starbucks doesn’t (to my knowledge) charge for soy in that instance.
But this isn’t about me.
I’m currently drinking my last cup of Starbucks coffee. Coffee that I didn’t pay for with my Starbucks card, because my Starbucks card is empty and there’s no point in reloading it. And I’m sad about that. Sad that twelve years of loyal patronage are ending this way.
(The bright side? I am going to save so. Much. Money. Still though, Starbucks. Fix this and it will all be forgotten.)