07 April 2012

Caveat Venditor, Starbucks...

This cartoon is by the ever-brilliant Mick Stevens, New Yorker magazine
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"What Starbucks has created around coffee is
an extension of the front porch.
If you look at the UK, the English pub is an extension of
people's homes but for a different beverage.
Our stores have become a gathering and meeting place
in addition to the coffee."
~Howard Schultz, Chairman/CEO Starbucks

After several weeks of finding local store and office personnel unresponsive to issues regarding faulty Wi-Fi and an approaching remodel of the store, a group of us who are regulars at Starbucks Location X decided to "bump the thread".  We met, listed our specific concerns, and Gitanajava Productions drafted the following letter, written to Starbucks via their website.  We posted our letter the evening of Friday, 6th April 2012.  Now, we're waiting to see what, if any, response we'll get from Starbucks.

Buckle your seatbelts, here we go...
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"What's Wrong with the Wi-Fi?"

For the past several weeks, the once speedy Wi-Fi at Location X has slowed to a crawl and is often unresponsive.  It is not uncommon for users to get the message "page not found" or to be timed out of a website when the signal drops or fluctuates.  Even when only 1 or 2 customers are using internet (and none of them streaming), the Wi-Fi remains significantly slow.  Therefore, it is important to note the Wi-Fi issue appears unrelated to the number of users.

This issue has been encountered by both regular customers and random visitors, many of whom complain "what's wrong with the Wi-Fi here?".  Frustration with the faulty internet connection has become so frequent and predictable topic of conversation among the regulars, we text or email one another ahead of our arrival to ask "How's it running today?"  Some, rather than endure the all-too-familiar malfunctions and slow-downs which have lately become part of the daily menu at Starbucks Location X, turn around and leave.

As loyal customers here, we have done our part to find a solution:  individually and together, we have reported particulars of the issue to the staff and manager.  Yet, despite their empathy and amenability, they seem uncertain about how to resolve the ongoing Wi-Fi problem.  After several weeks, we've yet to see any improvement; if anything, the situation seems to be degrading further.

One need only look around the store to discover fully 50% of the customers, and often more, are either students from nearby universities or business people who bring their wireless devices along.  The risk of losing or disappointing these customers because of defective Wi-Fi and wasted time is appreciable.

This store is scheduled for a remodel soon.  It may be tempting for Starbucks to postpone addressing this issue of faulty Wi-Fi until the remodel is accomplished, but we hope you will NOT be so shortsighted.
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The Remodel of Starbucks Store X

Several months ago, when we first learned of a possible remodel at Store X, we were delighted this location was getting a long overdue update.   While the remodel plans were still in discussion and only a set of nebulous schemes, we told various Starbucks representatives we didn't like the "window bar" idea, a shallow, low, bar-type shelf to run the length of the storefront, paralleling and facing the westward plate glass window.  They listened politely and made reassurances.

Nonetheless, recent discussions with staff, store manager, DM, and designers from Starbucks' -- plus an over-someone's-shoulder glimpse of the planogram -- reveal the remodel floorplan does include the installation of the "window bar".   It appears customers' needs, along with our considerable financial and emotional investments in this store, are wholly disdained.

The persons from Starbucks' office responsible for pushing this design say it is being done "to increase seating".  However, any small gain in seating will be offset by diminishing one of this locations' best and most distinguishing features:  the ability of customers to easily hold meetings around their laptops, whether for social, study, or business discussions.  Seated with our backs to the main space, we will have little to no control over screen privacy; furthermore, we will face laptop screens surrounded by glaring sunlight and the penetrating reflections of a parking lot filled with cars.

Many of us evacuated out of stores with the bar design or avoid it when encountered during our travels.  Low or high, bar seating is acutely uncomfortable and an impediment to the secure and ergonomic operation of our devices.  Most importantly, all of us note this design *dramatically* alters the social dynamics of the store, both customer-to-customer and customer-to-staff.

"We establish the value of buying a product at Starbucks
by our uncompromising quality and by
building a personal relationship with each customer."
~Howard Schultz, Chairman/CEO Starbucks

I'm not the first or only marketing pro-cum-caffiend to wonder if the much-vaunted "Third Place" ethos of Starbucks has been watered down to an omnia ad omnes fad, "be all things to all people".

Starbucks, you are not infallible, as witnesses to the debacle of 2008-2009 well remember and as demonstrated by recent alterations to your European mission.

Caveat venditor, Starbucks.  Keep your focus where it belongs:

"While we are a coffee company at heart, Starbucks provides
much more than the best cup of coffee --
we offer a community gathering place where
people come together to connect and discover new things."
~Howard Schultz, Chairman/CEO Starbucks

Our thanks to Voki.com for helping us create
the Gitanajava Voki.

See you on the patio, amigos!

1 comment:

  1. It's been over a week since this post was written and slightly longer since eight customers -- with more to come! -- posted comments re the faulty Wi-Fi and questioning features of Location X's coming remodel. All of us filed per "accepted channels" -- via SBUX's own StarbucksCustomerVoice.com website.

    Have any of us received so much as an acknowledgement of our concerns or a form letter? Nada, zip, nothing.

    Bad form, Starbucks! Go ahead, bury your head in the sand -- & you'll get rump-slapped!


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