business news in context, analysis with attitude


This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

Late in August, while I was taking a few days off, Starbucks announced that it was closing down its online store. Now, this sort of surprised me, since I am a longtime customer of that store - for years, I’ve had a subscription to the Verona blend, getting two pounds, ground, delivered to the house every month. This way, I don’t have to worry about running out … and more importantly, I don’t have to worry about Mrs. Content Guy running out if I’m off gallivanting someplace.

I reached out to Starbucks and asked what the rationale behind the closure was; the online store has been doing business since 2011. I got an email, saying, in part:

We’re continuing to invest in amplifying Starbucks as a must-visit destination and are looking across our portfolio to make disciplined, thoughtful decisions. This includes doubling down on our digital relationships with our customers to further elevate our digital flywheel through our mobile app and our Starbucks Rewards loyalty program. Continued integration of these digital and mobile customer connections into our store experience is among the highest priorities for us and to enhance that focus we’ve looked for ways to simplify our current efforts.

To that end, we can confirm we’ve decided to close our online Starbucks store effective October 1, 2017. Frequent customers of the site will be kept up to date on product availability and we’ll continue to offer promotions and specials until that time. Going forward, we will shift product availability to external sites managed by CPG channels (including our grocery partners).


I am intrigued. But not persuaded.

By telling me that I have to go to a Starbucks store to get my bagged coffee, or a supermarket, or even Amazon, isn’t Starbucks actually interrupting what has been a smooth and, frankly, near-captive relationship? Isn’t Starbucks opening the door to another brand possibly getting my business?

If I go to the supermarket to buy my bagged coffee, as they seem to be suggesting, I may choose another brand … because there are a lot of options. Or, maybe I’ll find another company that offers subscriptions, like Stumptown, which I drink when I’m in Portland during the summer.

I understand the power of mobile … and in fact, I am a frequent mobile user at Starbucks. But it strikes me that these are two entirely different customer interactions, and Starbucks is giving up on one of them. Unless, of course, they’re planning on allowing me to use mobile to have a subscription, but I’m not sure how that would work, and when I asked the question, Starbucks didn’t get back to me.

Maybe the whole subscription business simply isn’t profitable, and costs Starbucks far more than it is worth. Maybe I’m the only person in America who had a subscription on its site, and it was time to put the program and me out of our misery. But I don’t think so.

Here’s the thing. Unless I’m wrong here, Starbucks seems to be trying to tell me that it wants me to buy its products the way it wants me to buy its products … not the way I want to. As other companies try to shrink the distance between shopper and shop, they appear to be lengthening it, or at least throwing up barriers. It seems counterintuitive, and risky.

I don’t get it.

Then again, if it doesn’t work out, maybe Howard Schultz will decide to re-take the CEO reins and reassert himself by reopening the online store.

That’s what is on my mind this morning and, as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: