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Starbucks Rewards: How an App Has Revolutionised Coffee Lovers’ Customer Experience

Written by 
Brad Davis
October 9, 2019

When it comes to examples of successful rewards programs, there is no better example than the Starbucks Rewards app. To say it’s successful would be an understatement.

A recent Manifest study revealed that of all smartphone users who regularly use restaurant loyalty apps, nearly half of them (48%) use Starbucks Rewards.

Early last year, former Starbucks Chief Financial Officer Scott Maw (now retired) said that digital engagement was almost solely responsible for the coffee chain’s same-store sales growth. More and more customers are interacting with Starbucks (browsing the menu, placing orders and even paying) via the app.

So what is it about the Starbucks Rewards App that makes it one of the most successful loyalty programs and frequently used rewards apps of all the major restaurant chains?

Is it that you can order and pay before you even arrive? Or that you receive personalised offers based on your previous transactions? Maybe it’s the fact that if you hear a song you like when you’re inside any Starbucks in the world, you can add it to your Spotify playlist with the click of a button.

Let’s take a closer look at the revolutionary coffee shop app, and how it manages to create the ultimate customer experience...

How Does The Starbucks Rewards App Work?

In a nutshell, the idea is that you download the app and sign up to create an account, which will provide you with a digital Starbucks card. You can load it with money from your bank account.

At this point, you can now order and pay for your coffee and other Starbucks menu items through the app, allowing you to skip waiting in line when you arrive at your closest Starbucks.

You can browse the menu, place your order and pay while you sit on the bus, for example, and then stroll into the cafe, grab your items and walk straight out again!

screenshot of starbucks app
The Starbucks Rewards App - Source: Starbucks

For every dollar you spend on purchases made through the Starbucks Rewards app, you’ll earn two stars.

However, you can rack up stars a lot faster by taking advantage of “Double Star Days”, and participating in the coffee chain’s various personalised promotions you’ll receive via push notification.

This could be something along the lines of, “Hey Amanda, try these three hot new menu items before the end of the month and receive 50 stars!”Your accumulated stars can be redeemed for free coffees and other in-store treats.

What Does The Starbucks Rewards App Do Well?

starbucks screenshot of website rewards
The Starbucks Rewards Program - Source: Starbucks

1. It Keeps Things Simple

The basic rules of how to accrue points and redeem rewards are simple to understand, plus the added benefits for members are straightforward as well.

Transactions = stars. Stars = discounts and freebies.

2. It’s Remarkably Easy for Customers to Join

Rather than put customers off with a tedious signup process, Starbucks has made it very quick and painless to register with Starbucks Rewards. Stars can be accumulated immediately.

starbucks app join instructions
Instructions on how to join the Starbucks Rewards - Source: Starbucks

You could literally be standing in line waiting to order when you first hear about the loyalty app, download it right there and then and be ready to accrue stars for your order by the time you reach point-of-sale.

3. It’s Super Convenient for Customers

Starbucks recognised that a vast portion of their daily customers are on the go and in a hurry. So what did they do? They made it possible for customers to order and pay for their coffee and/or meal ahead of time, so that everything is ready to go when you arrive at the store. You don’t even need to wait in line to pay!

Let’s be honest, here – you don’t reel in a global annual revenue of $22 billion by making people wait in line!

Starbucks Customer Picking Up Coffee Order
A customer picking up order at the counter

4. It’s Fun and Engaging for the Customer

As for accumulating points and redeeming rewards, not only are Starbucks’ rewards attractive and easily attainable, but the whole process is laid out in the form of challenges and “bonus stars” for increased engagement. It adds an element of fun to the process.

“If I buy a macchiato today instead of my usual latte, I’ll earn double stars for my order? Sure, I’ll try the macchiato and then tomorrow I can cash in my stars for a free muffin!”

5. It Makes Members Feel Special and Appreciated

Are you the type who likes to set up a temporary office in a cafe and spend several hours working or studying while you sip coffee?

So do a lot of people… that’s why Starbucks’ free in-store refills offer is a huge drawcard for rewards program members.

When a Starbucks Rewards member purchases a coffee – either at POS or through the app – they can enjoy free refills of basic coffee or tea for as long as they remain in the store.

This means you obviously can’t stroll back three days after you bought a coffee and demand free refills, but you’re more than welcome to buy a drink and then sit in Starbucks all day drinking for free.

This gesture does wonders for making rewards members feel like VIP’s who are part of an exclusive club, and it also shows them that Starbucks appreciates their loyalty.

starbucks rewards landing pageon phone
Customers can check their reward status on the app - Source: Starbucks

6. It Opens up the Lines of Communication Between Starbucks and its Customers

The Starbucks Rewards app sends push notifications to customers whose stars are about to expire, as well as notifying customers how many stars they need in order to achieve gold status.

Not only does this personalise the relationship between Starbucks and each of its 16-million-plus loyalty members by offering a unique customer experience to each individual coffee-lover, but it also encourages a sense of urgency in making sure your stars don’t expire.

God forbid you lose your progress towards freebies and exclusive discounts because you didn’t make it into Starbucks before the end of the month!

7. Its Partnership with Other Brands Helps Create the Ultimate Customer Experience

The global coffee chain’s strategic partnerships with other mobile apps like iTunes, Spotify and rideshare app Lyft in recent years have also increased customer engagement and solidified their status as a titan of the loyalty rewards industry.

Starbucks chooses its rewards app partnerships very wisely, to ensure partner apps uphold the same standard of convenience, creativity and innovation.

By partnering with Spotify, for example, Starbucks can improve its overall in-store experience beyond just coffee.

wallet with starbucks giftcard
Starbucks gift card in a wallet

In a nutshell…

It’s a combination of all the above points that makes the Starbucks Rewards Program one of the most successful loyalty programs out there.

The real reason Starbucks nails it is that they understand their customers, cater to their specific needs, and create an outstanding customer experience.

So… feel like a coffee?

If you're thinking about following Starbucks lead by setting up a digital loyalty program, read these 5 key reasons why loyalty programs are imperative for business success and how they will benefit your business.

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