On Starbucks cards and coffee

Last week, Starbucks launched a new gimmick, the Starbucks card.

Reader, I picked one up.

I haven’t registered it.

Thinking about this, I wondered why I would want to do it. As far as I can understand it, this thing is like the (equally annoying) Oyster card – a prepay card that you top up with real cash, then use to pay for coffee and cakes but only in Starbucks.

Good deal for Starbucks – you load up cash onto the card; next time you are looking for a coffee you think “ooo, I’ve got money on my Starbucks card, I’ll find me a Starbucks instead of going into this Costa / Cafe Nero / <alternative vendor of your choice>”. You’ve tied up your capital in Starbucks. Oh, and you have to register the card, so they get you on their mailing list, too.

Right now, there’s no benefit to me to having one of these things. They apparently don’t offer discounts or loyalty rewards (if they did, they might sway me, since I walk past a branch every morning out of Shepherds Bush Central Line station). One thing I did discover by reading the small print is that you can use the card in several countries worldwide, I think the US, Canada, Thailand and a few others… so that might be useful… but again, cash or my normal means of card payment seems more effective, no?

Another change that I’ve noticed, although so far this phenomenon appears to be limited to the branch in Guildford high street… they have started to ask for your initials when you order a drink.

I find this quite entertaining. Two years ago I was in Las Vegas and I was asked to give my name when I ordered my coffee. I was totally taken aback, mumbled “Piper”, and then discovered the friendly way in which they call out “double hot skinny extra foam decaf latte for EMMA!” when you order, so offering my surname was a terribly British thing to do. I’m used to it now, of course, so when I’m in the US it makes perfect sense to give my first name. Now, it looks like Starbucks in the UK are trialling the terribly British variation of asking for your initials, instead of your name – amusing, really 🙂

Finally, whilst I’m on the subject of Starbucks – and although this post may appear to bash them, I am kinda addicted – check out this interesting new mashup that shows the location of coffee shops in central London (NB you need to select “London (UK)” from the drop-down at the top right). So many that you can’t actually see the map, in most places. At least I’m never far from my next fix.

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20 thoughts on “On Starbucks cards and coffee”

  1. Coincidently, I was in a Costa coffee shop yesterday and spotted they now have a pre-pay-top-up-give-me-a-coffee-on-credit card as well now. Its clearly the future. I didn’t pick one up; I so rarely frequent these places it didn’t seem worth it.

  2. Agreed, the Starbucks card does sound a little pointless. But I’m actually vaguely approving of the Oyster card, because it’s better than the ‘previous’ alternative – buying a ticket each time (I’m speaking from the perspective of a non-Travelcard owner – if I still had one, I might feel differently). The Auto top-up facility, if it wasn’t badly designed, would make it even more useful. So although it restricts you to spending money on TfL services, I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. The Starbucks card is different – what advantage does it have?

  3. Ah, Oyster. So we hear that the police are now routinely demanding Oyster details as part of unspecified investigations. I’m still glad that I’m stuck on the backward paper ticket option.

  4. Incidentally, the “extra foam” thing – someone in the queue in front of me at Shepherds Bush really did order an extra foam latte – WHY would you want extra foam? surely that’s just less fluid of a consumable nature. Ridiculous.

  5. Quite frankly, I think this post has summed up why I don’t go to Starbucks…

    As for Oyster cards, I loved mine in london. Far more convenient than stuffing aronud with cash on a bus, and much faster on the tube than a paper ticket.
    The only problem is when you run out of money on pre-pay. It is fine if you are near a tube station, but if you want to use the bus you have to fork out (almost double the amount) in cash for a bus first.

    The daily capping on Oyster is great too, now if only it was accepted on rail travel…

  6. Starbucks cards make nice Christmas gifts for teachers and the like. The only card I ever had I received as a gift, and tossed it as soon as it was spent.

    Not a big Starbucks fan normally, but the eggnog latte is a bit of heaven in a cardboard cup.

  7. I kinda see where you’re going with the Oyster/privacy thing, Andy, but whilst I would agree that what the police is doing here is immoral, you’re only ever going to be a few years ahead of the privacy curve by hanging onto technology that’s bound to be removed sooner or later (it’s arguably already deprecated). There have to be better ways to fight this stuff (but no, I don’t know what 🙂

  8. Your UK card would be good anywhere in the world?!? That is surprising, since I got a card for just that reason, so I could use it in both Canada and the US, but it did not work… It would have been useful for these early morning flights into the US where I might not have greenbacks with me.

    Oh, and I do like their coffee (the bolds), I just don’t go for the overpriced espresso drinks…

  9. The adverts for the card in the freebie newspapers on the Tube declare cross-country compatibility with Canada/US/Australia and Thailand. I haven’t been out of the country in the past 7 days in order to try that out.

    On Oyster: I’m not going to get into that debate now, I’m in too much of a bad mood already today (see internal blog).

    Kelly, these are more like chargecards that you keep, rather than gift cards… but I suppose you could use one as a gift card.

  10. Hey Andy, fancy an experiement, for listing my new website I’ll happily send over to Starbucks card from the USofA for you to try in London…

    In fact I’d better a Star buck that it doesn’t work… otherwise it turns into an international currency with its own exchange rate. Is a $5 card worth a Grande no-room Americano plus biscoti in London ? It certainly is here in Austin…

    In fact we could build a Starbucks futures market around buying a card and recharging it via PayPal. We could have a coupleof PayPal accounts that credit to each others credit cards and buy Star bucks in the currency that gets the best coffee for the buck, switching and crediting via PayPal as currencies fluctuate. Maybe this is my scam for early retirement…

    But I bet it doesn’t work… want to try??

    ps. On the basis I’m an Americano kind of guy, I don’t understand why anyone would want to put milk, let alone foam in the cup…

  11. Mark, might be quite amusing – pop it in the internal post to me in South Bank if you like.

    If it doesn’t work, it seems a lot like false advertising…

    I’m actually an americano guy myself, but I have to confess to adding a dash of milk to mine. The foam, I still don’t get.

  12. Would just like to add that I have a UK Starbucks Card that I used in Canada over the Xmas break and it worked extremely well. When it spit out my receipt at the tills it even converted my balance into Canadian dollars while in Canada and once back in the UK in pounds.

    What I don’t know is how the currency exchange is calculated. Is it a direct exchange or is there an administrative charge or the like? I would be interested to know.

  13. So I have gotten the Starbucks card and I can tell you the few reasons I like it:

    (1) Great for gifts. And usually the way mine gets started is it is a gift.
    (2) No need to be concerned with change. So it beats cash.
    (3) No need to worry about tracking it in my banking statements. I buy coffee probably 5 or 6 times per week from Starbucks. Having to review 25 transactions a month (300/yr *gasp!) on my charge card is irritating.

    Here in the states, I don’t need to register it. So while they can tie the cards to locations, they can’t tie the card to me unless I bought it with my charge card. Of course if I lose it, I am outta luck.

    So there you have it. Now of course I think Starbucks would do well to offer some kind of reward, surely more people would acquire them. People using the cards are inevitably giving Starbucks extra cash (when they are lost, people buying coffee just cause they have the card, etc.), so it seems good business judgement to do a better job of getting them in the hands of their customers.

  14. Thanks for the additional comments, folks.

    The currency exchange etc. is still a mystery, but it is interesting to know that it does indeed work between countries.

    I like the thoughts that Bill has added here – I still haven’t “activated” the card I picked up, but those are neat points.

    A drive-though Starbucks… hmm… never come across one of those before, either!

  15. >>A drive-though Starbucks… hmm… never come across one of those before, either!

    There are loads here in Austin, in fact all the new ones in the ‘burbs have drive-throughs…

    Somehow its a cop’ out, its like drug addicts being given meth. Somehow it works but you’ve lost the experience… plus it diminishes your desire to go in next time…

  16. I’ve been getting almost a £1 discount with each coffee I buy using the card. I’ve been using the card in 4 shops in North London

    They don’t charge me for any of the ‘extras’ (syrup, extra shots etc).

  17. I did run across drive through Sbux in Austin, but if really in a rush I notice you get coffee faster in store. What I really digg is the 24 hour Sbux in California and Las Vegas. I have the new London Sbux card that for some reason I cannot register here in US for the rewards program, nor could I activate or add money that Ssux.

  18. I received an email from Starbucks about auto top up and, yesterday morning, set this up with my credit card.

    About 4 hours later I received an email telling me my credit card had a problem with authorisation.

    I went back to their site and checked the details which were correct – just to be sure, I deleted the entry and re-entered the details.

    I tried a manual top up using those details and it still failed.

    I then spent 43 minutes on the phone to my credit card company trying to find out what the problem was.

    My credit card company told me they had not declined any requests from any retailer. They also told me they had seen a successful transaction for £10.

    So, I ring Starbucks customer services this morning who proudly tell me it is because my registered Starbucks name does not exactly match what is printed on my credit card (i.e. my credit card uses my first initial only).

    Since they do not tell customers at any points that their registered name must be exactly the same as the form printed on their credit card, how do expect them to know this? That is assuming you are actually serious about this rule – which frankly, is ridiculous.

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