Starbucks Steams Customers With Rewards Program Revamp

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The Seattle-based coffee giant says the change was a response to customer demand, but the reaction from many customers has been frosty.

Trouble is brewing over Starbucks’ announcement that it’s revamping its loyalty program. Although the coffee giant says the new reward system implements customers’ top requested change for the program, the response from coffee lovers so far has been lukewarm at best.

Under the new tiered program coined “Starbucks Rewards,” java drinkers will earn rewards – in the form of “stars” – based on how much money they spend on a Starbucks visit instead of how many Starbucks’ visits they make. The stars can be redeemed for free drinks or food items.

The coffee giant’s revamped rewards program goes into effect in April. It replaces the “My Starbucks Rewards” program, which we recently featured as one of the best loyalty programs offered by retailers. Unlike its successor, the old tiered program allowed customers to earn a star for every visit, regardless of their purchase amount, and after they earned 12 stars, they could cash in on a free item from the Seattle-based coffee chain. Loyalty members reached Gold status after earning 30 stars.

Under the new two-tiered program, customers will earn two stars for every $1 they spend. But the value of the stars is much different. Gold members of the new Starbucks Rewards program will need to earn 125 stars – which equates to spending about $62.50 – before they get a free item. Customers can reach Gold status after earning 300 stars.

While the revamped program may benefit Starbucks’ customers who buy more expensive drinks like mochas and frappuccinos, people who order cheaper drinks like plain coffee or iced tea stand to lose out. Money explains:

The old system conferred “Gold” status and a free drink after 30 visits. The new one requires people to spend $150 for Gold status. This means that if your standard drink is cheaper than $5, it will take more than 30 visits to get that status. If your standard order is a medium regular coffee, or a “grande” as Starbucks insists people call it, spending $2.75 per visit, you’ll get status on your 54th visit.

Not surprisingly, lots of java drinkers are upset about the change.

“So you will now need to spend 65ish dollars to earn a reward vs the 35ish I was spending before. (I just drink black coffee),” Robert Bell wrote on Starbucks’ Facebook page. “And this is what people have been asking for, less reward? Probably not!”

Eva Grimm, who says she’s a Gold Card Starbucks member, also expressed her frustration on Facebook:

Earning stars for how much you spend makes sense, you should earn more if you do decide to indulge in those sugar filled frappuccinos. However, why does the new star requirement have to be so high? Regular coffee drinkers are being punished. I’ll take my business elsewhere.

Noah Lomax tweeted:

Now I have to buy 2x as many cups of coffee to earn 1. Gold for 5yrs now looking for a new coffee company. #noloyaltytoloyalty

Starbucks maintains that under its new program, its loyal customers will earn stars and rewards just as quickly as before. The coffee chain said it also plans to roll out “Double-Star Days,” where Gold members earn 4 stars for each $1 spent.

“If you always buy only one beverage or pastry when you visit Starbucks, it might mean taking a little longer to get a free reward than you do today,” Starbucks admits on its Starbucks Rewards FAQ page.

What do you think of the changes to Starbucks’ rewards program? Will the revamp impact where you get your java fix? Sound off below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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