Coffee and Cigarettes, Minus the Cigarettes

Coffee and cigarettes are hand-in-hand products, almost perfect complements to each other; both providing their users with deflated wallets and horrible breath. Walk around any city or town in the early morning and you will undoubtedly observe multiple people enjoying both vices concurrently. There have even be major films entitled ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’. In popular culture, the pair is like Ben and Jerry, Beef & Broccoli, Shoes and socks. Unlike those other relationships, coffee and cigarettes are not a unanimously accepted pair. There are definitely many coffee drinkers who find cigarette smokers repulsive, and perhaps vice versa. Still, with such an inherent blend in product culture, one would assume most coffee shops would welcome cigarette smokers to their establishment without limits. If a company really wanted to thrive, maybe they’d pursue a pack-and-mug combination, giving the fiends their fix in an orderly fashion. Yet Starbucks has recently implemented a polar opposite plan…

On June 1, 2013, Starbucks initiated their ban of smoking on premises. This policy, which prohibits patrons from smoking within 25 feet of a Starbucks establishment, will take affect company-wide immediately. According to the Wall Street Journal, “roughly 7,000 company-operated cafes in the US” have adopted this policy. This does not include “licensed stores” which are those locations found in larger establishments such as Barnes & Noble or Target. Many Starbucks locations contain outdoor seating areas, which provide space for customers to sprawl out, enjoy their coffee, the weather, and finish any pending work. These areas will officially be off-limits to cigarette smoke.

From an organizational standpoint this decision comes as quite a surprise. Although Starbucks consumers, and coffee drinkers for that matter, are primarily mobile customers; many enjoy the comforts of the establishment. As a company, Starbucks promotes itself as inviting and welcoming, allowing customers to make use of their Wi-Fi and use their stores as work sites. One should not presume that all coffee drinkers are cigarette smokers, yet it is a fairly safe assumption that those who consume both make up a rather significant portion of Starbucks’ client base. Starbucks is essentially alienating this faction of their customers through the implementation of this new policy. Many customers may suddenly feel unwelcomed at a place they once visited frequently. This policy states, on the surface, that those customers can take their business elsewhere, or buy their coffee and take it on the road. A Starbucks spokeswoman stated, “we take pride in providing a comfortable environment at our stores where customers and members of the community gather.” In an attempt to appease the community at large, (which is most commonly against smokers) the company has distanced itself from this portion of their customers. It is probably safe to assume that a corporation as prominent as Starbucks did the necessary market research prior to making such a bold decision, but that does not eliminate the chance that this choice could come with major backlash.

Bidding for Luxury: A New Way to Fly?

The allure of flying first class has clearly diminished in recent years, leaving Airlines scrambling for an initiative to maintain their organizational element of luxury. What has become of this growing issue is an interesting concept that will be implemented quite soon. Airlines have begun the transition to auctioning off business class seats, and not in the conventional manner of going to a Kiosk. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Bids for premium seats that otherwise might fly empty begin online weeks in advance and typically close 48 hours before takeoff.” These auctions are also applicable to other seating arrangements that may be more appealing to customers. Essentially, those seated in coach can upgrade to premium (if that option exists on the particular flight), and premium customers can bump themselves up to the elite business class. Plusgrade, the company responsible for designing the auctioning system, allow carriers to determine exactly how they will handle premium seat bidding, and which customers will be given the chance to participate. Rather than let many of these seats go unfilled and thus wasted, airlines are considering organizational efficiency in finding a way to get people to buy in. There is a strong correlation between overall economic certainty and luxurious commodities such as business class seating, and this relationship is evident in the statistics. Figures show a parallel decline in business class purchases and the economy, the former of which has yet to truly recover since the downturn.

The auctioning concept, which has yet to reach domestically, represents the quality management idea of reengineering, a portion of breakthrough improvement. The concept is considered radical redesign because it is a complete change of pace for the industry. In a time where most airlines seem to be ignoring the common customer’s needs in an attempt to cut costs, auctioning provides mutual benefits for both parties. Airlines can still charge insane face values for top tier seating, while giving the average customer an opportunity to experience first class. There is also the element of the unknown, and risk associated with an auction, which livens up a usually dull experience.

Airlines have taken a cautious approach to implementing auctions for seating, and have used a method quite similar to the Deming Cycle of Plan-Do-Study-Act. Rather than introduce the market to an idea this revolutionary in relation to the industry, many airline companies have done trial periods to gauge the level of consumer interest. After some successful trials in 2012 multiple companies, including El Al a popular Israeli airline, have introduced the concept in full in 2013.

I was once lucky enough to fly first class because of an error made by the airline company, and can say for certain that is an amazing experience. Still, the luxury associated with premium travel has declined in recent years, and for many it is frankly unattainable. By offering these unsold seats to others at a potentially discounted rate, it will hopefully introduce a whole new class of people to a whole new class of travel.