Why is Starbucks struggling?

I was disappointed to read in PR Week today that Starbucks is image stimageruggling, that the coffee chain is fighting to improve its reputation.

According to the article, an online poll of 1,567 people found that of the 62 per cent of consumers who regularly visit one of the four main coffee shop brands, 16 per cent actively avoid Starbucks.

I admit to having a soft spot for Starbucks because, although I confess to not being a big coffee drinker, I have had very positive first-hand experience of the organisation after hearing Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, speak at an event on leadership in London. I later wrote to him describing how my son’s first request on waking up after a hospital operation was for a Starbucks Java chip coffee-based Frappuccino. I was a complete stranger, yet Cliff personally replied to my emails, as well as arranging for a a box of goodies to be posted to me, including a coffee maker, several coffee samples. chocolate bars, mugs and a £20 Starbucks voucher for my son.

As a result, when PR Week was researching its article on Starbucks, it contacted me because my blog posts on this subject came up high on their Google search of the organisation. They asked me to contribute my experiences, and this is what I wrote:

"How many presidents of global organisations find the time to write to complete strangers? And to respond in a warm and genuine way? That was certainly my experience after emailing Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

I forwarded him a link to my blog post describing how my son’s first request on waking up after an operation was for a Starbucks Java chip coffee-based Frappuccino, as I thought he might find it amusing. I admitted my ignorance at the coffee names and he said he would educate me. Shortly after I received a box of goodies, including a coffee maker, chocolate bars, mugs and a £20 Starbucks voucher for my son.

I am delighted to see that conversations on blogosphere are being monitored and that organisations are responding.

Organisations should respond to all comments, even negative ones. It would be great if Starbucks provided internet access to a corporate blog on all its premises for customers to express their views. What a great way – and an inexpensive one – for it to get valuable feedback.

Should I email Cliff about this idea?"


  1. I love real coffee but will not buy it unless on special occaisions, like when I’m out with my wife for the day. Buying just one cup a day while at work would leave me racking up a bill of 40 quid a month. Ridiculous prices for a tablespoon of beans, some hot water in a paper cup.

    I’d buy more if the price was right.

  2. “It would be great if Starbucks provided internet access to a corporate blog on all its premises for customers to express their views.” (ellee)

    Great until someone spilt coffee all over the keyboard!

    You never know, you might be onto something with electronic guestbooks. Having said that if someone pitched them on ‘Dragon’s Den’ I can’t imagine them walking off with the cash – who would bother to read them?

  3. There is only so much Value Added
    you can put on top of a muffinor a cuppa coffee

    Maybe if the Frappucinos were cheaper, they might sell more in the summer.

    I love them, but common
    a fiver for a pack of fags is bad enough
    a fiver for a gallon of petrol is almost criminal
    but almost a fiver for Frappucino?

    Do the marketing gurus @ Starbucks think every Tom, Dick & Harry, or Sheila has a fiver to give away for what is essentially little more than half pint of milk in a see thru plastic container with the Starbucks logo?

  4. Patisserie Valerie coffee is far better. Berkeley, California has declared itself a Starbucks free zone. As Jean-Luc said, people hate it because it’s omnipresent.

  5. I can understand why you have a soft spot for the company , Ellee, and I remember your post about your son’s request. But I hate Starbucks myself!

  6. There’s some varied feedback here, let’s wait and see if Starbucks picks up on this post and responds, I will let you know.

  7. My take on this is that Starbucks became No.1 and it’s kind of in our nature to then knock them off the top. “Let’s go to Cafe Nero because they are smaller and cooler…”

  8. There’s an hilarious clip on You Tube with Jackie Mason giving his thoughts on Starbucks:

    I couldn’t agree with him more!

  9. I avoid Starbucks, prefer to find something better, and we can certainly do that in Oxford. My favourite place is Georginas in the covered market. It is brilliant.

  10. The coffee is rubbish – the basic quality is often worse than the basic supermarket brands, and then it is not proced with any consistency. The burnt taste someone complained about is usually because the coffee was ground too fine or over compressed – buit on other times I have had a watery cup because of the opposite faults. The cappucino is a disgrace – it is not meant to be a latte with more froth. They don’t appreciate that different beans should be used for espresso and filter coffee – the really intersting beans do not usually take to being made into espresso.

    Their practice of charging an unjustifies premium for anything which derives from the norm leaves a nasty taste in the mouth – why should someone who is lactose intolerant pay so much more per cup when the premium does not reflect the additional costs to Starbucks. As for Fairtrade – a penny a cup more to the producer, 9p to Strarbucks doesn’t sound like a particularly fair trade to me.

    That said the other chains are not usually much better. Far better to go to one of the independents before they are all gobbled up by the chains – Monmouth Coffe House is very good, the cafe next to Arts Theatre in Cambridge has always served a decent cup.

  11. I like Starbucks as a place and a company but, like Philipa, I don’t actually like their coffee very much. It seems too sharp to me, despite the fact that I don’t like my coffee smooth, and despite the fact that I make great coffee with their beans. I think they scald it, by using boiling water to top it up (I drink black Americano, and never use boiling water to make coffee) as it is also always too hot.

    Take note, Starbucks people who I am sure are reading!

  12. Ellee: Absolutely! I know a friend who used a calculator to determine that he spends $5,000 (US) a year on Starbucks. I feel it is ridiculous to pay $1.56 for a small cup of Java! But the social atmosphere is a good one!:)

  13. ian jones

    Three planks of retailing are product, store design and then staff. I think the product and staff are wonderful but the store design is hopeless. The plywood finishes are looking worn and dirty. The flooring is often dirty floorboards which are very difficult to maintain. The wall-coverings are generally looking tired and dirty again. The seats look and feel like they are from the skip of a primary school and the tables are wobbly and unclean again. Sofas, where they have them are worn out.

    I rest my case…

  14. I have no idea how you do it all, but my God, it’s impressive. Very informative and interesting.

  15. Companies don’t really want negative feedback, just the good. They *say* they want to know, but they don’t.
    I like Starbucks.
    But yeah, even I make better coffee, in my opinion. Mine’s not too-strong, bitter and burnt-tasting.

  16. I don’t drink coffee so can’t talk about the quality of Starbucks coffee in the store. However I hear many people complain that it tastes burnt and over roasted. We have Starbucks everywhere here, there is one corner downtown with two Starbucks opposite each other.

  17. There are lots of other coffee places springing up everywhere now so there is that competition where none was to be seen before. In my town alone, and it’s a smallish place, we have Tim Horton’s, Java Hut, Blenz, and several other independent coffee cafes along with Starbucks. The competition’s coffee is just as good, if not better at some places, and their prices are very competitive. However, I must say that I do prefer Starbucks frappuccinos in the summer. Both one of my daughters and my son-in-law have worked for Starbucks and it IS a good company to work for what with their benefits and stock options policies. I think the fact that they might be struggling now basically comes down to competition.

  18. It may be that Starbucks have grown so large that they are in every town and there are few places else to go, but some avoid them as a result. It’s like people avoid going in McDonalds.

  19. Ellee, I understand you’re president of CAMREC, aren’t you? Campaign for Real Coffee?

  20. No need to email – just keep blogging about them? Why not do a survey of coffee places in Cambridge?
    Start at Savino’s though – for the authentic Italian experience!

  21. It’s overpriced.

    Ellee, perhaps you should encourage the creation of the ‘Coffee Council England’. It’s purpose in life would be to subsidise coffee houses in poorer parts of England so that disadvantaged children have access to coffee houses on a fairly regular basis…

    Should school lessons include trips to the local coffee houses too!?!

  22. I agree – its not a patch on several of their rival chains.

    So they sent you free stuff, knowing that you wrote a blog and that this positive experience would be related to your readers? Canny PR, but it doesn’t make them any more an ethical business or employer. And could it possibly be a response from a PA, not the man itself…?

  23. Pip, what’s wrong with it?

  24. I don’t like their coffee, there’s a reason.

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