From Gold to Green: Oops!



Do you have the Starbucks app on your smart phone? I finally downloaded it to my phone just last week after having stopped at a Starbucks with a friend who had it. She was getting her free drink due to her Gold Card and I got intrigued to learn more about it. As many other big companies, Starbucks launched its loyalty card early in 2009. The idea behind creating a brand loyalty culture in a company is immensely valuable, as it guarantees customer loyalty and simultaneously gathers data of consumers, at the small cost of rewarding consumers with small gifts.

In Forbes, Roger Dooley case studies Starbucks’ loyalty program and finds a misfire. Dooley talks about Starbucks’ magnificent marketing techniques and their great job in cultivating a brand loyalty culture. He says “Like the airline loyalty programs it resembles, the Starbucks Gold Card program has to deal with customers whose consumption habits change… if you must cut benefits, you’d like to do it in the most sensitive way possible”. It is not the way Starbucks has gone about creating, managing and marketing their Gold Card program, it is the way they have removed benefits from less frequent customers that could be revisited.

As of now, when a customer frequents their coffee shops they accumulate points and get rewards in relation to their purchases. It only takes 30 stars to become a Gold Card member and to maintain that status, you must consume 30 stars on a yearly basis. If for instance, you open a card and for the first year accumulated 30 or more stars, you automatically become a Gold Card member. If the second year comes around and you fall short of the 30 new stars you were to achieve, Starbucks sends you an email informing you, in a rather cold way, you have been “demoted”.

Even though it is relatively easy to get your status back, this same email will continue informing you that “you’re back to Green for now, and your Star count has been reset”. Therefore, you fall down in level and zero out in points, it is a lose-lose situation for the brand loyal customer. It is interesting to see who even though this app sounds like a great way to incentive clients to visit their Starbucks coffee shop, it also seems like a one-way street. I say this because it seems that as long as you are loyal to Starbucks, Starbucks will be loyal to you. Because the moment you do not accumulate the 30 stars Starbucks requires to be in the Gold Card, it is as if you have never been a loyal customer and you start all over again with a Green card and zero stars.


Do you think it is right for Starbucks to simply zero out your account? What suggestions would you give to loyal customers who may feel frustrated? Do you have a Starbucks app? Are you a Gold Card member? What is your opinion?

12 thoughts on “From Gold to Green: Oops!

  1. Great Post! I don’t believe is fair for starbucks to just zero out you account, like you said it is kind of a one way street. I actually buy my coffee drinks from Argo Tea whom also have a similar program of rewards but you don’t have to have certain stars to be consider a gold member and benefit from that membership; You just buy 10 drink and get 1 free. I used to be a gold member before and I occasionally enjoy their venti caramel frapuccino but I’m no longer signed in to their loyalty program. I think that by demoting people from getting those benefits of a gold members, might either drive people away towards other options or it could actually make people want to buy more often to obtain that gold membership.

  2. I don’t consider myself a big fan of Starbucks as I don’t go their frequently. However, I find it weird how the demote your gold status if you don’t meet their requirements. I think that it is unfair for their customers. I don’t think that they should demote you if you don’t meet they requirements maybe they can award their customers if the always meet their 30 stars.

  3. I think Starbucks is doing a disservice to their customers by sending customers an email that “demotes” them, and zeroing out their accounts. Starbucks is blatantly insulting their customers because they didn’t keep their numbers up and fell below the “gold” standard. If I were a customer on the receiving end of this kind of email, I’d feel insulted, and I’d stop buying coffee there. Customers are responsible for keeping Starbucks in business, and Starbucks should be thanking their customers.

  4. Interesting post! I do not think Starbucks should zero out your account. Although they haven’t reached 30 stars, they are being loyal by coming back and that should count for something. I don’t really like this idea of a green and gold card. There should be one card that people build their points on and once they reach the amount they get a free item. To keep customers satisfied, I would allow the points to roll over from one year to the next.

  5. Great post! I never really considered how Starbucks “demoting” their customers can have a negative affect on their brand loyalty. I do have the Starbucks app and I am a gold card member, but I have not had Starbucks in about two months. This means that I’ll have to buy a lot more later in order to retain my gold card. The knowledge you have presented about going back to green level and having my stars reset makes me feel anxious. Instead of simply enjoying the benefits of the Starbucks loyalty program, I am not always concerned with how many stars I have and whether or not I’ll be “demoted.” Customers would be more satisfied if that was not the case. It would be interesting to know why Starbucks decided to zero out your stars at the start of each year. It seems as if there is plenty of room for revision to create a better incentive program, although their’s is one of the better ones I have seen.

  6. This was a great post. I can name tens of friends or family that I know who would, hands down, be a Starbucks gold member. Although I am not one myself, if i were put into the situation with the possible demoting of my gold card status, I would easily be frustrated. As someone who has already exhibited their loyalty to the business, the idea of being pushed back to ground 0 seems like an unnecessary pressure. The enjoyment of becoming a member will no longer be existent. The feeling will soon turn into a stress for the average Starbucks consumer. The reward of membership within a company should be earned without the fear of it ever being taken away.

  7. I see what you mean. The demotion is ice cold. I feel like Starbucks is pressuring people into buying more coffee instead of encouraging them with rewards. It’s backwards, and I feel like the margins they earn on the coffee are high enough that this marketing move actually causes an overall loss in revenue. You’re obviously less inclined to drink their coffee now, and you’re writing about it, so I’m certain that many people agree with you.

  8. I don’t have the Starbucks app but I go there occasionally. Probably not enough to get 30 points a year. I personally feel that this was a great idea but I would change one thing. Accumulating points would gain consumers attention especially when they would receive something free in the end. I don’t think they should zero out the points because it discourages customers. Maybe they can try bombarding app followers with notifications that they are close to receiving the sufficient amount of points to get promoted to the next level.

  9. I don’t think it’s fair for Starbucks to zero out people’s account. They don’t sound like a very happy, welcoming loyalty program if you don’t buy enough of their product. I do not have the Starbucks app, I am not a gold member, and i personally think their loyalty program is kind of stupid. All my coworkers are obsessed with Starbucks and I’m fairly sure a majority of them have the Starbucks app and are a part of the loyalty program. Like you, one of my coworkers had me intrigued about the program until I saw how many Starbucks drinks I had to consume to be a part of it. As a once every 6 months drinker of coffee, the program didn’t peak my interests and wasn’t for me. I am however part of other drink loyalty programs like bubble tea. Their loyalty program is after 10 drinks, you receive a free bubble tea. The number to consume did not seem unattainable and there were no gimmicks to the concept, making it an easy choice to be a part of. Starbucks loyalty program is a turn off, they are punishing people for not consuming enough drinks within the year and it shouldn’t be that way. Loyalty programs are suppose to give consumer’s incentives to buy and want to be a part of the company, not be forced to buy in order to keep their rank. If anything, it would make them less likely to be a part of the program.

  10. I understand that some people could be upset because their account is zeroed if they don’t meet the requirements but people are not obligated to join the program. They can continue to go to starbucks and drink their products. The loyalty reward program has requirements that must be met and if they aren’t then you don’t get the reward. If the requirements seem unattainable then don’t partake in them.

  11. You can earn free drinks and other benefits as a gold card member like free refills. You qualify for other promotions that Starbucks does regardless of your cards’s level. This includes a free drink for your birthday and other limited time promotions. I am an avid Starbucks drinker and I think the loyal customer can really benefit from it because of multiple visits a day for everyone else it is not worth it.

  12. I often get excited for a rewards card for whatever store it is that I have it for. The card makes you want to spend more to get more points or stars in this case, and you usually use the store that you have a rewards card in, again because of the points. Which is a great business model to get clients in to the store, and to keep them loyal. But then comes the question: how many times have you actually used the rewards on the card? Not many? Me neither. This can sometimes get frustrating when the points zero out after a certain time of no usage, as you still were a loyal customer, and you made the purchases at their store. I do not think companies should do that because it discourages those loyal clients from using the rewards cards.

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