3 Keys to Starbucks’ Loyalty Success

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The greatest asset to any business is a loyal group of brand evangelists. They’re the customers that will go above and beyond to tell their friends about your business, which is the most effective promotion. These customers’ enthusiasm is magnetic – they’re committed to your products, and pretty soon their friends will just be as fired up about your unmatched truffle fries or go-to chopped salad.

But how do you get these all stars onto your team? One of the keys is to develop an effective loyalty program that keeps them in the habit of coming to see you.

Starbucks’ loyalty program My Starbucks Rewards is an example of loyalty done right. More than 5 million people across the country use their app every week. Why? Because it offers what customers are asking for (hello free coffee!) and it’s incredibly easy to use.

Some restaurant mobile apps struggle to gain traction; others outright fail.  While Starbucks can undoubtedly attribute some of their mobile success to their already-fanatic fan base, they’ve also set themselves up for success in ways that can be adopted by any brand. Here’s what Starbucks has done differently:

Seamless Payment and Loyalty

When customers download the Starbucks app, they can pay for their favorite drinks simply by scanning a barcode, or order from their phone ahead of time. With each purchase, customers earn stars which can be redeemed for free food and drinks. As customers continue to use the app, they achieve status levels—Welcome, Green and Gold—which come with additional rewards and perks. In an interview with Marketing Magazine, Sean Claessen, EVP of strategy and executive creative director at Bond Brand Loyalty said:

They’ve built utility right into the loyalty program. There is not a lot of distinction between the mobile payment and amassing your stars and defending your gold status. They are part and parcel of the same interaction, and I think that has been a huge key to their success—not just in the last quarter results, but since the inception of the program.

This seamless integration of mobile payment and loyalty is a key ingredient of what makes My Starbucks Rewards excel. Customers don’t want to be bothered with complicated processes, and blurring the lines between paying and rewards makes their experience enjoyable and swift.

Network and Partnerships

Starbucks has also forged partnerships with companies like The New York Times, Spotify and Lyft, creating a network beyond just Starbucks customers. These partnerships show the importance of offering customers more than just a free menu item.

According to Claessen, “We talk a lot about informal loyalty mechanics. A lot of that is predicated on creating and delivering utility, delivering convenience and delivering things that are of high perceived value, but low actual cost. And I think that is kind of the secret sauce of what [Starbucks] has brought to the table with a few of these partners.”

Authenticity and Customization

There’s no denying that My Starbucks Rewards is not a one size fits all solution. Just by looking at the design, features and overall experience, it’s no surprise why it’s doing so well. By staying true to the brand and creating an app that customers want to use, Starbucks has grown to become a leader in the restaurant app space.

Looking to learn about another brand whose mobile solution is jiving with customers? Click below to download the Taco Time Northwest case study.


Jackie Cooke

Jackie Cooke

Jacqueline Cooke is the Digital Content Marketing Manager at LevelUp. She's a firm believer in the power of avocado toast and chocolate chip banana pancakes. When she’s not trying out LevelUp partner restaurants (hello, Dig Inn!) you can find her dreaming up travel plans, trying out a new workout class or listening to her laundry list of podcasts. Read about her latest antics at jacquelinecooke.com

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