Grande Skim Latte...Delivered?

I finally got around to finishing the Sunday New York Times last night and came across this story. One New York City Starbucks, just up the street from my apartment on the Upper East Side, has been quietly testing out a delivery service. For those non-New Yorkers among you, delivering coffee may come as quiet a surprise. But for those of us accustomed to getting everything from McDonalds to toilet paper delivered to our door, it seems more like, well, it's about time.

Or is it? Even though the location's business cards apparently urge customers to call and ask about delivery, the whole thing seems pretty hush-hush. According to the article, the manager of the location, Julie Bernard, is not supposed to talk to the press, and the official word from the bean counters in Seattle is that there are no plans to expand the service. A company marketing director was "unable" to give information about how many deliveries had been made, and an official company spokesman worried, "It's just going to cause confusion among our customers." Indeed, it's questionable whether or not the service is still offered -- the Times writer notes that the delivery sign had been taken down.

On the one hand, you can see why Starbucks might try and keep keep this quiet. Their success hasn't been built merely on expensive, tasty coffee, but on the experience of its ubiquitous locations -- the jazz music, the aroma, the purple velvet chairs. Yet on the other hand, this enterprising manager was clearly trying to put a local face on a huge national brand, and to, well, deliver what her customers surely wanted. What do you think? Should Starbucks protect the experiential "third place" they've created? Or should they encourage more managers to tailor the local experience?

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4 Comments

  • Jill Davis

    Dlivering Lattes will certainly not detract from Starbucks' in-store experience. And people are going to spend money at Starbucks because it's THERE. You can throw a rock in any direction in NY and hit a Starbucks--they've managed to drive out almost every other specialty coffee place in the city over the last ten years.

    That said, delivering the drinks might be a real added value to New Yorkers who don't want to run outside on a snowy night; or those in a long afternoon meeting at work who would appreciate the convenience of a simple phone call. I would continue the deliveries over a test period, and see if it makes a difference.

  • Cathy Mosca

    Starbucks would bring coffee to my door? And we're debating whether this would be a good thing? When does it come to my neighborhood? I'd be happy to put my latte in the microwave and let them off the hook for the diminished quality. I can do without the experience, I go to Starbucks for caffeine. I hate that there are no drive-thrus. Wait a minute, I know where there's one. Sorry, it's not in the Northeast, but if you ask me nicely, I'll tell you where.

  • johnmoore (from Brand Autopsy)

    Starbucks presents an image of bottom-up store-driven entrepreneurial spirit but in reality ... Starbucks is very much a top-down operational company. They have to be in order to scale the company the way they are while maintaining consistency. And maintaining consistency is at the heart of this matter and not maintaining the in-store experience.

    The real issue for Starbucks here is 'drink quality.' By delivering drinks in the vertical neighborhoods of NYC, Starbucks runs the risk of putting lukewarm coffee beverages or less than slushy blended beverages in the hands of consumers. Lukewarm lattes and watery Frappuccinos just don't taste as good.

    If Starbucks was concerned about not being able to deliver an in-store experience then they wouldn't be maximizing the drive-thru opportunity. Then again, with drive-thrus, Starbucks gets to control the consistency of their beverages far better than they can with delivery.

    Being a former marketer at Starbucks I can imagine the boardroom chatter and hallway conversations at the Seattle Support Center about this well-meaning but maverick-minded store manager.

  • Kelleen

    I'm no marketing person, but this suggests that there may be times when "brand" take priority over service. Is that true?