Starbucks announces big changes to My Starbucks Rewards.

Today, Starbucks announced big changes to their Starbucks Card program, known as MyStarbucksRewards.  The new changes go into effect on October 16, 2012.  Here’s the new Rewards program at a glance:

Here is the link describing the new My Starbucks Rewards perks when you pay using your registered Starbucks Card:

Some of the big changes are that customers will be able to select food as their “reward” and the free reward cards will be earned faster – it now takes 12 stars rather than 15 to earn a Starbucks reward!  Welcome to your “lucky dozen,” as I’ve heard it called.  That’s a catchy phrase!  Right off the bat, I will say that I am happy to have the increased flexibility of being able to select a food item as a reward – and this includes a bistro box or a panani!

I. Brief Starbucks Card History: (Skip this part if you don’t like history lessons!)

Just briefly, a little history of the Starbucks card:  In November 2001, the very first Starbucks card was launched.  On September 17, 2002, a decade ago, Starbucks enabled the card to have the ability to have automatic reloads.

The first rewards of any kind were launched in April 2008, having been announced by Howard Schultz at the annual meeting of shareholders in March 2008.  They were part of the “transformation agenda” announced by Howard during that March 2008 meeting.  The first generation of Starbucks rewards had no “levels” – You just registered a card and earned free soy milk, free breve milk, free syrups, a free tall beverage with a pound of beans, and free refills.

In November 2008, Starbucks launched a gold card where customers paid a $25 annual fee, and got 10% off his or her purchases.  Keep in mind, by the end of 2008, and through most of 2009, Starbucks offered two side by side programs.  The free program earned free soy and breve milk, free syrups, free refills and a free tall beverage when buying a pound of beans.  There were no “levels” to the free program – all you did was register a card and use it to pay for your purchases.  The 10% off program (which had a $25 annual fee) did not include the free milk changes, free syrups, and all the free perks.  The 10% off card was phased out, one year after its initial launch.

During 2009, Starbucks quickly discovered that having two non-overlapping rewards programs really didn’t work.   In October 2009, Starbucks announced the current version of MyStarbucksRewards, which offered three levels of rewards:  A “Welcome” level, a “Green” level, and a “Gold” level.  This three level version of MyStarbucksRewards went into effect in January 2010.  The new MyStarbucksRewards launching on October 16th is the first major overhaul of the program since its January 2010 launch.

In April 2012, Starbucks started testing digital rewards in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

By the way, the previous free program where you registered a card and earned free soy and free syrups, and free tall beverage with a pound of beans was rolled into the “Green” level of benefits.

II. Discussion of New Rewards:

At a glance, here’s what the reward changes look like:  (This is my own quick chart!)

  Before 10/16/2012 (Jan 2010 to 10/16/12) – “Sweet 16” After: “Lucky Dozen” beginning 10/16
Free soy milk or breve milk at the “Green” level of rewards Yes No
Free food (pastries, bistro boxes, paninis, and the popcorn) No Yes
Electronic delivery of rewards No Yes
Free Tall Beverage when buying a pound of beans Yes No
Free syrups – Vanilla, Raspberry, Hazelnut, and standard syrups Yes No
Free Refills Yes Yes
Free Birthday Beverage Yes Yes

I think lots of people are asking questions about these reward changes.  Here’s what I know … I hope I got this right.  This is new to me too!  I do think that what I wrote below is correct.

Why are rewards going digital?  Can I still receive a paper coupon in the mail?

Everyone will receive perks electronically.  Starbucks was spending about a million dollars a month on mailing out free drink coupons.  The paper rewards model just wasn’t a sustainable model.  A million a month was a lot of money.  It was expensive, and it used a lot of paper.  It wasn’t “green” at all.

Is there any food that is excluded from the free food perk with my “Lucky Dozen” coupon?

As I understand it, all of the “Evenings” Starbucks food is NOT included, and is not eligible as a reward.  Also, ready-to-drink beverages, such as the Evolution Fresh juices, are not eligible, as I understand it.  A customer can grab a wide variety of food items – breakfast wraps, paninis, pastries, bistro boxes, bags of popcorn – all kinds of food items!

Can I bank my reward coupon and use it when I want to?

When you want to use a reward coupon, let the register barista know you have a reward to use.  Your reward coupons do not automatically kick-in every 12 stars.  It will appear electronically, but you should let the barista at the register know that you want to use it.  This gives customer an added flexibility to use it on the beverage or food item of his or her choosing.

How will I know when I have a “lucky dozen” coupon to use?

You’ll get an email notifying you that you’ve received a free beverage/food coupon.

Will I be able to check my rewards, much like I can currently check my balance in the stores?

I inquired with Starbucks whether there will be a new functionality to the card of “check my reward coupons.”  I imagine this new functionality as something akin to the current ability of a barista to swipe a registered card and tell the customer his or her balance.  For customers who are very high users of the rewards, this seems like it would be a help in keeping track of rewards.

As I understand it, Starbucks is looking into this functionality, though it is not currently operational.

Why did Starbucks take away free soy milk (and free syrups) as an option?

I have actually heard baristas say that Starbucks got rid of free soy milk because it was just too expensive of a perk.  I strongly do not think that is true.

About 25% of transactions at the register involve a registered Starbucks card.  Out of those transactions involving a registered card, about 5% of them involve a free modifier such as free soy milk, free breve milk, or a free syrup.  I am sure that there are some stores where it feels like a much higher average, but on the whole, it’s only about 5% of the registered transactions.

I think that as Starbucks re-evaluated their rewards programs, they found that it was cost-neutral to remove the free soy milk (and free syrups) option and then offer faster rewards with greater flexibility.  In other words, the new version of the rewards will reach a much larger customer base.  Those of us who do not use soy milk and syrups didn’t see that as the most useful benefit – and the numbers bear it out – only a small group of customers really used the free modifications.

III.  Melody’s Perspective:

If I haven’t been clear up to this point, I resoundingly like these changes!  I know that I’ve spent so long talking about the history of the rewards and the fine details, that it might not be obvious that I like these changes!

I can recall back in 2009, saying to myself, “After a while, to the heavy user, a free drink coupon is going to lose its surprise and delight … Oh yay, yet another free drink…”  Early on, I saw the need for some variety in the Starbucks card rewards.  Variety is the spice of life!

I definitely think that the added flexibility on how a customer can use his or her reward is, well, FABULOUS!  I enjoy a few of the paninis, as well as some of the bistro boxes, especially the goat cheese bistro box.  And my drink beverages are not really all that customized.  Flexibility is a win win for me!

I like the overall simplification of the rewards.  I think that it is possible that this new version of the rewards program will be easier for a barista to understand and explain.  By the way, it is still true that a customer can use any card as his or her “gold” card, and is not tied to using the shiny gold card.

Only time will tell where the ambiguous and confusing moments are for this new program.  The free refills aspect to the My Starbucks Rewards remains unchanged.

And I like being able to get my rewards faster.  Once in a while, I handed a free beverage coupon to a friend, and I’ll miss that flexibility, but I like the idea of never having my rewards lost in the mail.

I understand that for the fans of soy milk and free syrups, it might feel like a sting, but I think over time people will readjust to the new “lucky dozen” Starbucks rewards.  (As a reminder, a customer can save ten cents on his or her beverage by bringing in his or her own cup, mug, or tumbler.)

Now it is your turn to weigh in.  I know this blog article is long and won’t quite look like some of the other articles in the news.   Full disclosure: On Friday, September 7, 2012, I was able to ask a few questions of the Starbucks Sr. VP of Store Operations (Ms. Rossann Williams) about the changing My Starbucks Rewards.  I didn’t receive anything at all – it was just a conversation where I got to ask questions about the My Starbucks Rewards.  By the 5th of September I knew about the rewards revamp, and was glad to have a chance to ask a few direct questions.  A big thank you and shout out to Linda Mills who made that happen.  Thank you!

What do you think?

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  • Melody

    Gobo, I don’t know. I still feel a little burned in that. I get that not everyone can get a free Verismo, but to have the PR department just tell me, ‘Oh they must’ve won them on Pinterest’ and not even say, ‘We’re sorry you weren’t picked…’ I guess I don’t feel very appreciated by Starbucks at the corporate level, and everyone wants to feel appreciated. Sigh. Gobo, I really do hope you get your Verismo soon … I know I’d be super eager to buy the pods and give it a whirl! Maybe try emailing Cecile one more time.

  • DadCooks

    @Gobo – still waiting. They were promised in October, so Starbucks has 3 more days.

    Starbucks missed a great opportunity with us MSI “lucky ones” when they did not get the Verismos to us by launch time. Now they are making us look like liars. I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but for now mine looks like it has no teeth :-)

    @Melody – I can understand your disappointment, but at least you weren’t promised one that is a no show 😉

    Returning to the original topic of this post (New Rewards), the manager at my regular Starbucks says there have been no discernible business impact. Some “complaints” but also understanding. Too bad though that the redemption of electronic rewards is still problematic.


    One of the experienced Baristas says that when he was hired by Starbucks he got 9 full days of actual training. Now a new barista gets 3 days of a partial shift. Starbucks is setting new employees up to fail.

  • Kelly

    Thank you for all the info on the new Starbucks card vamp. Although, yes it’s nice to get a free drink now at 12 – that being said I personally did use the free upgrades for Breve’s and syrup. I personally would rather have the free upgrades and not free drink at 12. But to each it’s own. Thanks again!

  • Stan

    I was glad to see the rewards program changes. I appreciate getting a free drink every 12 drinks, but I do think they could tell me in a better way. I was told by my barista that they had no way of checking whether I had a free drink available or not. That seems strange to me. I was told that I could check on line in my account. Well, I didn’t really care to check and thought that they should be able to see that info when swiping my card. Wouldn’t it make a better presentation if the employee said, after swiping my card, ” I see you have a free drink available, would you like to use that now?”. And what is with the free reward having an expiry date of a month ? Now that I no longer receive a notice in the mail I don’t necessarily think of using the reward. I don’t get why it expires that quickly.

  • gobo

    Thanks for the update, DadCooks — hopefully they’re still actually sending them. Like you say, it seems like it would’ve been a better idea to get them to folks a month BEFORE the product launch for advanced buzz. Especially to folks like Melody who have popular blogs!

    The biggest problems I’ve heard with the new program aren’t angry hordes of soy-drinkers, but a lack of training, the aforementioned inability of baristas to check people’s star balance at POS, and licensed stores not being able to process the new digital rewards.

  • gobo

    As a quick update, still no Verismo, and no answer at all from Cecile/MSI after three attempts to contact them. I’m assuming at this point that nobody’s getting Verismos. Sort of insulting, actually. I hate to be whiny, but promising people something and then just giving them silence is poor.

  • DadCooks

    @gobo – I agree. Silence speaks volumes.

  • Melody

    @gobo @DadCooks –
    You are right. Silence does speak volumes. Gobo, I am sorry your emails to Cecile have not been answered. It is one of those things that is my pet peeves – or emails answered without addressing what’s in the email.

    If it helps gobo, I recall hearing from someone else that Cecile may be on vacation right now. This might explain some delay.

    I wonder who has gotten their Verismos — From comments on MSI, the lucky group included Gobo, Esquimax, LadyKathryn, Coffeemum2, 1yogagirl, BetterBefore, 1Suzeeq, and several others. Dadcooks, you were included too, right? I don’t recall hearing from cuppajoe? I wish I could persuade them to come here and let us know if they’ve received theirs. I am curious. But I know that for many, the idea of being active on two Starbucks sites is overwhelming.

    And even more oddly, I got an email from someone I know at Starbucks (not on Cecile’s team), that I was indeed included in the list to get a free Verismo. I have never heard this from MSI which is odd, but of course, I am totally happy to be included. From whomever it comes, I am thankful. I was told 8 weeks too before it would arrive.

  • Gobo

    That’s very interesting, Melody — if Cecile’s on vacation and nobody else is handing CS at MSI, that’d explain the silence. And if they told you “8 weeks’, that would put delivery in mid-November, rather than October, as her emails to myself and DadCooks stated. I’ll be patient, then :)

  • Melody

    @gobo – No, mine is 8 weeks from now – by the end of the year. I assume everyone else will get theirs before mine. And, like I said, I was contacted by one of my PR contacts, not Cecile. Yet I hear it is from Cecile. Well, I will just wait patiently!

  • Sandra Trolinger

    Does anyone know if they actually posted who won the free Verismo machines from the Pinterest contest?

  • Sandra Trolinger

    Free bracelets today at all Starbucks for election day. Just a reminder!

  • DadCooks

    @Melody – yes I am one of the lucky MSI Verismo awardees. In this day of virtual everything, made we are getting “virtual Verismos” 😉

    @Sandra – the Manager at my regular Starbucks told me they sent her a box of 300 bracelets (in addition to the hundreds she has in the backroom). Too bad Starbucks did not think to include a little slip of paper explaining why the normally $5 bracelets were being given out. The Manager did post on the bulletin board a sheet of paper from Starbucks explaining the reason. Even though it is above the condiment stand, it is so cluttered that a dull printed page is not noticeable.

  • Hayley

    No Verismo for me :( I am so sad!
    I didn’t get a bracelet today either when I went in, and the barista even commented on my ‘I voted’ sticker. I’m just a loser all around, I guess. To be honest, I would prefer the Verismo over the bracelet.

  • Melody

    Oh no Hayley! :( How nice that you even had a sticker. There are no polling places left in Washington. The Verismo thing, I can’t even begin to explain, but I understand that it feels much better to be included! As to the no-free-bracelet, that conversation would fit better in my 11-4 thread, but oh well … I would seriously be curious as to what many people encountered in the stores. On the official MSI blogs (which I linked to) there are a surprising number of comments where people went into stores that didn’t even know that there would be free wristbands. How does that happen?

  • denise r

    @Melody: glad you found out that you were included in the (?) apparently small number of people getting the Verismo thru MSI…..or, as DadC…referred to, maybe virtual??? I don’t remember when but Cecile did respond to me saying it would be 8-10wks, and I was figuring then it might easily be into the New Year.

    re: the “bracelets” after voting (or not voting, for that matter, apparently), I was in 3 different Sbux here yesterday and they were all giving bracelets away, quite generously. But, in talking to my sm, he didn’t even know about the wristband thing until he was notified due to his own gold card email! (the day before)
    Just curious re your statement: “there are no polling places left in WA”? ???

  • Melody

    @DeniseR – You can’t actually go to a polling place and stand there and vote. I used to like doing that, and did it up until the very end. Now everybody in the state gets a ballot by mail. Everyone. I filled out my ballot at a Starbucks. It can be mailed back in or put into a designated drop box. There happens to be a designated drop box (official ballot box – literally, it’s a huge metal box) close to where I work, so I always fill it out last minute (though I’ve previously thought through choices) and drop it in the ballot drop box close to work.

    I have occaionally thought that a system where everyone gets a ballot by mail may disenfranchise those who are totally homeless. But it seems like that is a trend – apparently there are other states that do voting entirely by mail.

  • Melody

    @DeniseR – and everyone reading this –
    By the way, the number of people who have posted about the free Verismos, who all seem to want an update, is large. I’ve noticed several comments on MSI about it. It seems as though Cecile gave a free Verismo to Gobo, Esquimax, LadyKathryn, Coffeemum2, 1yogagirl, BetterBefore, 1Suzeeq, DadCooks, Stainles, Melody (via the pr dept. ?) and BBDance also, gathering by what I’ve read on MSI, and perhaps more. (I included myself on the list though I have never been contacted from Cecile about the Verismo. That seems odd, but I have other contacts at the hq, and heard from them.)

    I am excited for it to get here. I hope that somehow it doesn’t really take until the end of the year, but if it does, I will consider it a Christmas present from Starbucks at 2401 Utah Avenue South. :)

  • denise r

    @Melody: wow! NO POLLING PLACES!!!!!! news to me. that would be weird around here! I don’t think Cook County will change its voting ways EVER….in more ways than one:( Plus, I feel a bit uneasy about the mail anyway…..(just missed my cell phone bill from last mnth, for one thing…that was quite a surprise when it was doubled and late fee!) Of course, I called and they removed the late fee and I just sent it in but, not a good sign. Those postcards from Sbux were bad enough, but they were ‘postcards’ and had a high likelihood of loss. Never knew there was a place with no polling places!

  • gobo

    @DadCooks: I received a note from Cecile; I believe she’s been out of town, and apparently there was a shipping issue with the Verismos — she says they’re being sent out the week of November 19.

  • DadCooks

    @gobo – thanks for the update. That being the week if Thanksgiving, depending on the shipping point, we will probably not see them until the following week.

  • Philman

    I think the loss of the free upgrades will come back to sting Starbucks (SB), because its the perception that your getting a freebie every time you visit a SB is what people like. Without that perk for me, there is no reason to go. I can go anywhere else and feel the same. The free drink every 12 or 15 is no big deal… Its perception people!! Perception is 100% right or wrong… And that’s what they’re losing by eliminating the free upgrades. Lastly, the loss of the “golden” Sb card will be a set back for them as well. People like the card because they feel like they’re part of an elite or special club… Note to Mr Howard Schultz; WAKE UP!!! Don’t mess with the small freebies, cost cut by proper Barista training and middle management who I’m sure is sucking SB dry. Literally and figuratively speaking… :)

  • Sheldon

    I like how they reduced the number of stars earned to receive a free drink and now free food. The thing that gets me is when they tell you how many earned free drinks are available. For example, it says that one of my free drinks has expired on Oct 31, but the status says available. So does that mean i can still get a free drink even though it has expired.

  • michael

    Anyone else notice how they got rid of free breve milk at the “Gold” level of rewards now?

    On 12/3/2012 and before that it was still free and today 12/10 it stopped. Kind of strange.

  • denise r

    @michael: they seem to be un-rewarding things as they go along. Twice I was able to buy the choc.covered peppermint grahams as a reward and then suddenly I wasn’t. ??? They’re $5.95, less than many drinks I might buy. If I want them, why does Sbux care how I “pay” for them. (because one item costs them more than another, which speaks to what they charge in the first place…)

  • purple1

    Denise so agree with you. And as a matter of fact the one SB store where I got the graham crackers are totally sold out and have not seen them in days! Boo!

  • Deb

    I’ve been a loyal SB patron since the late 90’s. I’ve been a card member since 2003. I just noticed today that breve and syrups are no longer a free perk on my personal card. THAT is why I always exclusively used Starbucks. Now I’ll just make my own, elsewise WHY would I pay nearly $5-6.00 for a 20 oz latte?? I don’t care if the free drink is at 12 or 16. I rather would prefer the perks we regular users at Gold level enjoyed. Now I see no reason to continue to use and maintain a card. Now Starbucks is no different than any other shop, they offer free drinks at a dozen too. Bad move SB, this customer just cut my consumption at your business.

  • Gobo

    @Deb: They announced the new changes in late summer and they took effect nearly 4 months ago; maybe it’s just me, but I think that spending an extra sixty cents or $1 on a fancy coffee drink every four months isn’t a huge expense.

    The new Rewards program is much more generous than any coffeeshop I’ve ever seen — anywhere.

  • Melody

    Deb, I have to admit, I don’t really know why customers who were loyal for many years before there were any rewards at all, suddenly become not loyal when rewards (which have only been around since 2008) change. Any big company is going to constantly re-evaluate their rewards. And it’s a big win – win: There are perks to Starbucks to having rewards, and you get very nice perks too – And perks that can be used by many customers, not just those who like milk and syrup changes.

    I hope you’ll stick around. The new rewards are fantastic. By the way, if you subscribe to this site, (or click the “like” button) that is one of many many ways to keep up on Starbucks news.

  • Sandra Trolinger

    I got the rewards email regarding my free birthday drink saying it was available and just to ask the barista to ring it up. So I go in today to redeem it and she says there is no reward showing on my card. So I redeemed my earned free drink reward instead. I will try again NEXT week to redeem my birthday drink as my actual birthday is Jan. 5th and maybe it won’t trigger until after my actual birthday? I will also check my digital rewards app and see if it shows a free birthday drink.
    Anyone have any input on this? Thank you.

  • Deb

    @Gobo The breve discount was still good at Thanksgiving, but dropped off in Dec sometime, the last receipt I had was from Dec 6th. And .60 – 1.00 would have been DAILY 5 days sometimes 6 a week, not every four months or so. I don’t usually have a syrup, only breve. So at 12 drinks to get a free perk drink, I am out 7.20, so the “perk” rewards are not viable for a daily regular that is interested in coffee.
    I did feel rewarded when SB came out with their gold program. But now it is not any different from the shop down the street that also offers buy 12 get one free and their coffee is pretty good. I am not interested in spending my card coffee money on anything else, my card was loaded for coffee only. But to each their own, the card program originally I thought was intended for the daily coffee drinker. The cost has just gotten to be too much now to justify continued SB fixes.

  • Gobo

    If all you’re paying for is extra half-and-half, then the new Rewards program will definitely pay for itself very quickly if you’re buying drinks every day. Think of it this way: every two weeks you’re getting a free $6 drink (according to your numbers). Every 12 purchases. That’ll accrue very quickly.

    I should also reiterate… it’s 100% free :)

  • Melody

    I probably should have locked this thread a long time ago. It’s like as if the conversations in this thread are disconnected from anything else going on in the blog – like as if there is only rewards to talk about and not coffee, food, tea, and more.

    Deb, if you can’t afford the sixty cents, I understand. That’s reasonable. I get that people have to watch their pocketbooks. And everyone has different priorities for the money – car, clothes, food, movies, you name it.

    Your favorite beverage is a customized, espresso beverage. If you just drank drip-brewed coffee like Christmas Blend, or Verona, or Komodo Dragon, or Veranda Blend, you might not have ever noticed the free syrup and milk rewards.

    The new program went into effect in October. There were signs in the stores. There was an email from Starbucks. And there were blog and news articles on it. And there was even a phase where the baristas could waive the breve charge, as the new program was phased in.

    I am sorry you don’t like it. But it’s unlikely not to change back. And the new program is indeed better for the many people who really didn’t use the free syrup and milk changes. A larger base of customers can take advantage of these new rewards – not just the highly customized espresso beverage drinker.

    You could attempt to contact Customer Service and tell them you do not like the new program, but it’s just unlikely to change.

    I hope you’ll continue to be a Starbucks customer – obviously you were one for years and years before there were any rewards at all.

  • Melody

    A reminder of this blog’s comment policy:
    Comment policy:

    This is my blog and not a public space. Critical discussion is fine. I will, however, decline to approve (or delete your comment) if you descend into personal attacks, inappropriate language, disrespectful behavior, or excessive self-promotion and link-baiting.


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