Starbucks Gets Real-Time Loyalty Right


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I only drink one cup of “real” caffeinated coffee a day. So, it’s not surprising that I want that cup of coffee to be good. That’s why I’m a big Starbucks fan and a gold member of the My Starbucks Rewards loyalty program.

I have a customized Starbucks card that was given to me by a friend that includes a cartoon depiction of me, on the beach, sunglasses on, with a tiara on my head, my cell phone in one hand and my sugar-free vanilla latte in the other. I love that card. (If you haven’t seen the customized Starbucks cards, you can order them HERE and they are a great gift idea.)

I also have both of the Starbucks iPhone apps. One of them tells me the location of the nearest Starbucks (and whether or not they carry the bacon egg and gouda breakfast sandwiches that I’m addicted to.) The other iPhone app let’s me re-load my Starbucks card and can also be used as a form of payment at the Starbucks kiosks in TARGET stores.

Now, with that lengthy set-up behind me, let me get to the point of this blog post. This morning at 7 AM, I was in line at a busy Starbucks in San Francisco before heading over to DMA2010 where I’ve been working all week while several of my clients were presenting and exhibiting.

I knew my Starbucks card was likely low on funds so I checked my balance via my iPhone and realized that I only had $3.40 remaining. As I moved closer to the front of the line, I furiously punched the buttons on my iPhone in my own personal version of Minute to Win It trying to see if I could get my card re-loaded before I reached the front of the line. I literally pushed the “done” button as the barista asked for my order. I handed him my card, fully expecting him to ask me for cash to pay for the balance of my order. I figured there was no way that my transaction would be posted fast enough to hit the Starabucks POS system before my card was swiped. The elapsed time from my iPhone transaction to when my card was swiped could not have been more than 30 seconds. And guess what? It worked! My card now showed a balance of $53.40 (the $50 I had just loaded plus the $3.40 balance I had remaining.)

Coincidentally, a few hours later at the DMA conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Natalie Lumpkin-Brown, who is product manager, brand loyalty for Starbucks. When you follow the Starbucks Card on Twitter, Natalie is the woman who is making it all happen behind the scenes. When I told her my story about the amazingly speedy transaction time, she wasn’t surprised. Apparently, Starbucks has the system operating in nearly real-time. And that makes for a sweet customer experience.

Jill Z. McBride
Jill founded JZMcBride & Associates in 1996 to provide marketing, public relations, social media and event planning services and consultation. More than a decade later, the firm serves an impressive roster of consumer, business-to-business and non-profit clients. Jill's contagious energy, personal involvement and extensive industry knowledge infuses every endeavor of the group in order to help her clients grow.


  1. Jill, I’ve heard others talk about this but have not experienced it myself. Big win for Starbucks in many ways and not least of those is the positive customer chatter.

    Thanks for highlighting!

  2. Jill, I have done this as well and am very pleased it works so quickly. And I’m not using an iPhone, but rather an iPod touch utilizing Starbucks free Wi-Fi.

    My only complaint with Starbucks is when they made Wi-Fi free, I now have to log-on each time, even though I am a Gold card member. (I only had to log-on once before and I was remembered every time I went in.)

  3. Yes, the support for iPhone is phenomenal. A whole bunch of us will be pleased as punch when they finally release official apps for Android, and can then share in the love. “)


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