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The Myth of Brand Loyalty

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“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” — Michael Corleone

I’m done with Starbucks.

For now, anyway. Unless and until they hire me to work at corporate HQ down in SoDo. Because I’m not above selling out if someone makes me a compelling offer.

But I’m done with throwing my money at the Siren. At least until the next time I need caffeine in an airport where she’s the only game in town.

And increasingly, Starbucks is the only game in this town. It’s a coffee town. It’s a company town. Their town.

Venti
But as I write this, I’m drinking my last venti latte for a while.

I just cleared the last 96 cents off the Starbucks app on my phone.

I’m out of reasons to need them anymore and looking for an alternative supplier in my general vicinity. (I had one, but they’re gone now. More on that shortly.)

I’ve been a faithful of patron of the Siren — and coffeehouse culture in general; I am equally if not more supportive of independent coffeehouses — since my first Starbucks latte at the Beverly Connection in West Hollywood roughly a quarter century ago. During that time I’ve poured untold thousands of dollars into the company coffers and whiled away countless hours in their stores and on their patios.

Is there better coffee to be had out there in the world? Almost certainly. And I’ve heard all the arguments about how it’s corporate and soulless and overpriced and “not even good coffee.” It’s actually better-than-average coffee, but perhaps its consistency is more important than its quality, because for 25 years I’ve been able to walk into any Starbucks from Los Angeles to Kansas City to Chicago to New York and points in between and get the same reassuringly familiar cup of coffee every single time. And that matters to someone like me, for whom the ritual of one’s daily cup is as necessary as the contents of that cup.

But over the past year, Starbucks has been slowly pushing me away. And yes, while the decisions they’ve made have been strictly for business reasons, it’s hard not to feel as though they’ve been passive-aggressively letting me know that my business isn’t as important to their bottom line anymore.

It began when I learned that they were discontinuing the single-origin Ethiopian coffee that had been my preferred home brew for several years. (Despite my otherwise unrefined palate, I have long been an ardent and discerning consumer of African coffees in general and Ethiopian coffees in particular. It’s said to be the birthplace of coffee, in fact.) The reason I was a gold card holder at all was because, working from home and drinking a pot of coffee a day, I bought so many pounds of whole-bean Ethiopia that I racked up reward stars right and left. And now they were discontinuing not only that mainstay but its reliable backup, their single-origin Kenya, as well. Meaning no African coffees at all except for their Premium Select or Passport Series or Starbucks Reserve offerings, sold in smaller bags at more exorbitant prices.

This Is Just to Say,png

And that’s fine. It’s not like I can’t find another purveyor or roaster to sell me Ethiopian coffee. It’s just that I had grown accustomed to the ubiquity and convenience of Starbucks. Which is how they get you. Until they decide they don’t need you anymore.

Then this past Christmas, my mom put a few $5 Starbucks gift cards in my stocking, whereupon I discovered that, since the last time I had handled a gift card, Starbucks had changed its app so that you could no longer add the value of a gift card to your own existing gold card. You could still reload your existing card with money but not with other gift cards. Which just seems petty as fuck. Why would you remove that particular convenience from an app that millions of people use? It’s not an improvement or enhancement, so they must not want to credit you with stars you didn’t pay for out of your own pocket.

So now I’ve got four separate cards with four separate balances loaded onto my phone, meaning that over the course of my last few visits I’ve had to cycle through a couple of them during a single transaction. That is, until today, when I burned the last 96 cents off the last card.

And truly, the gift cards were the only reason I had been dropping into Starbucks at all of late, because there was an indie coffeehouse nearby that I had patronized regularly since my move to this area — quiet, comfortable, with a courteous staff and a consistently delicious latte.

Until yesterday, when I drove past it for the first time in a couple of months — due to both my work schedule and the route I regularly drive to work — to discover that it had been bought out. By Starbucks.

Those motherfuckers.

This is why I can’t have nice things. (Well, this, and other extenuating circumstances, as it turns out.)

So Starbucks bought my indie oasis and turned it into a drive-thru/walk-in–only operation with no indoor seating. (I know this because it’s where I chose to close out that last gift card, for reasons having to do with both curiosity and a sense of narrative closure.) And I’m left to search for a new hangout and a new supplier if I intend to be a citizen of the world and a habitué of coffeehouse culture as I’ve been for the last quarter century.

Otherwise, there’s always my balcony and my books and my own company and my own coffee, brewed as I like it, right here in my own refuge, my own private oasis, far from the corporate interests who have made it clear that my loyalty isn’t that important to them anymore and that they were never loyal to me to begin with.

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Written by Shepcat

May 24, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Life, The PNW

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