Devaluing loyalty

Image via Thinkstock
Image via Thinkstock

Starbucks’ new loyalty rewards program

By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor

As many of you caffeine addicts may have noticed, there have been big changes made to Starbucks’ loyalty program. The ease of the app and its integration with the payment card has made the program itself an unwavering success for the company. Even I will admit it is probably the most used out of my iPhone passport novelties. However, Starbucks’ recent changes to the program have caused outrage all over the Internet for a few simple reasons. One, it’s a change and the Internet hates that; two, instead of rewarding regular customers, like it used to, it now rewards customers who spend more money. Now, this may sound similar, but it is actually quite different.

Doing the math, on the old system, a star would be awarded every time you would visit a Starbucks. There were three levels to ascend, Welcome, Green, and Gold—there were rewards present in each stage, but the goal was to get to Gold level so that you would get a free item every thirteenth visit. Think of it like a stamp card—buy twelve and get the thirteenth one free! This changed significantly with Starbucks’ new system, which instead awards its stars based off of how much money you spend as opposed to how often you go to Starbucks. With the new system, 2 stars are awarded for every $1 spent. The ascension ladder will now start at Green, removing the Welcome level entirely—but now it takes 300 stars to reach the coveted Gold level. Starbucks’ claims that this is because stars will be awarded more frequently based off of the dollar system, as opposed to the older system. But, if we put on our thinking caps for a minute and actually do the math, this now means that someone will have to spend $150 at Starbucks before they reach the pinnacle of the loyalty program pyramid. If you’re comparing those two numbers, and $150 seems reasonable compared to 30 visits to a store, regardless of what you purchase, you’re nuts.

To add insult to injury, they also changed the frequency of when you’ll get a free item once you do get to Gold level. A free item will now be available for every 125 stars. Doing our math again, this means a customer will have to spend $62.50 to get something for free. If we compare it to the old system, that would be 12 drinks of $5.30 each. Spending that much is only reasonable if all you drink is frappuccinos, which I don’t advise.

For us regular folk, who mostly just want a simple cup of coffee and not all that crazy stuff that’s essentially a milkshake on sugary sweet steroids, the changes made to the loyalty program speak a pretty clear message of how unwanted we are. That stings, Starbucks.

Unfortunately, as consumers we have little power over what a company does or doesn’t do with its loyalty programs. The best we can do is throw up our middle finger and make friends with Tim Hortons.