Case Studies

8 Secrets that Make the Starbucks Loyalty Program So Popular

June 14, 2021
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For many people, this coffee brand not only entices the senses but also has magical abilities that awaken the brain. Still wondering? It's Starbucks. And one of the cool things about this brand is the Starbucks loyalty program.

Operating across 80 countries, the coffee chain is one of the largest in the world with over 32,000 stores, of which nearly 14,800 are located in the United States alone.

Not to mention, the Starbucks rewards program boasts nearly 23 million people as of April 2021.

Coffee chains and restaurants are generally among the top industries that work well with loyalty programs.

Despite its several thousand locations, the Starbucks loyalty program is only available in less than a dozen countries. It's quite popular in the US.

In this article, we're going to take a deep dive into the Starbucks loyalty program, how it works, why customers love it and use it, and what other businesses can learn and implement in their loyalty programs.

Some Starbucks Loyalty Program Statistics

The Starbucks loyalty program is well-known for the opportunities and benefits it provides to customers, especially the free birthday drink. It also allows customers to collect stars that can later be redeemed as free drinks or food.

The program enjoys a sizable active base. In April, the company reported that its "Starbucks® Rewards loyalty program 90-day active members in the US increased to 22.9 million, up 18% year-over-year." This also marks an increase from the 21.8 million active members in the US in the first quarter.

Although its main rewards program is in the US, Starbucks continually works to increase its rewards program offerings and launch its programs in other countries.

In 2014, the coffee chain launched its program in Brazil, followed by Japan in 2017 under the name Starbucks Rewards™. In 2021, Starbucks unveiled more benefits and opportunities to its Brazil program.

Customers who are enrolled in the Starbucks loyalty program can use it either via Starbucks Cards or the Starbucks mobile app. 

starbucks loyalty program statistics

The Starbucks loyalty program is currently available in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Kuwait, and the Republic of Ireland.

It's worth mentioning that the coffee maker operates its program differently in each country where it's present. It also doesn't offer the program everywhere.

For example, Starbucks has nearly 825 branches in the Middle East, with the majority in Gulf countries.

However, only Kuwait, which houses 163 Starbucks branches, has an operating Starbucks loyalty program. Kuwait isn't the chain's largest market in the Middle East or the one with the most locations.

That latter figure goes to Saudi Arabia with 239 branches followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with 209 branches, according to Al Shaya Group, which operates the Starbucks license in the Middle East.

The Starbucks Loyalty Program

All these numbers mean that the program is working quite well for the popular coffee chain. But what does its rewards program really offer? And why is it still gaining popularity?

The Starbucks loyalty program is a branded loyalty program. This means, it has the company's brand name and logo on it, while making the program about the customer rather than the brand.

Gameball's product team describes the branding of a loyalty program as:

"Giving your customers a more intuitive look into the incentives you are offering. Whereas not branding your program is as if you’re giving someone an unwrapped gift."

Starbucks' program is considered one of the world's best loyalty programs and here's why:

1. Listening to customers and offering constant upgrades

Starbucks is constantly working on revamping and upgrading its customer loyalty program. The company listens to its customers then begins resolving those problems.

In its recent revamp of the Brazil rewards program, Starbucks said it was "giving members a faster way to earn Stars toward free items."

Moreover, in September 2020, Starbucks announced a number of changes to its rewards program along with a slew of payment options to help customers pay for its products during the pandemic.

Other problems customers struggled with when it came to Starbucks' incentives program was its Green and Gold tiers. The result? The coffee chain removed the tiers.

While generally tiers can be a good opportunity to offer unique perks to high-paying customers, in Starbucks' case, it was confusing customers instead of rewarding them.

In one of its revamps, the coffee chain removed a customer pain point about stars/points expiring after 6 months. Now any stars/points earned in the Starbucks loyalty program do not expire.

2. Tasty perks

Benefits and perks are an essential element in any loyalty program. Starbucks' rewards program is no exception.

The coffee chain offers its loyal customers a free coffee on their birthday, coffee and tea refills, along with the chance to redeem stars for free food and drinks.

starbucks cups

With the mobile app and rewards program, customers can order in advance and pick it up in-store, curbside, or via drive-thru pickup (in select stores).

Being part of the Starbucks loyalty program, customers are eligible for Double Star Days (in some countries), where they earn double the number of stars/points for their purchases.

3. Points can be earned at non-Starbucks locations

An interesting opportunity Starbucks provides as part of its program is encouraging other businesses' retail sales.

"Members who purchase Starbucks packaged coffee at grocery stores earn points by entering a Star code that is on a package sticker, and it sometimes rewards bonus points for such purchases. This encourages shoppers to buy their Starbucks in more channels, and benefits the retailers that carry it," comments Bryan Pearson, former CEO of LoyaltyOne, in a Forbes article.

4. Multiple payment options

In its September 2020 announcement, Starbucks increased the number of payment options for its customers.

It now allows customers to pay with: Starbucks Cards, the mobile app, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Bakkt Cash, credit and debit cards, and cash.

If you're going to Starbucks, you have all the payment options you need.

5. Great UX

In 2018, the Starbucks mobile app was voted most popular among various well-known restaurant loyalty programs. The data came from a 500-smartphone-user-survey by The Manifest.

Starbucks' user experience (UX) was one of the reasons it's so popular among consumers, the report said.

6. Personalization

Starbucks Rewards uses its customer data to offer personalized perks and offers to its customers.

In 2019, Starbucks attributed 40% of its overall sales to its rewards program, according to a report by Digital Innovation and Transformation, a publication by the Harvard Business School.

The coffee chains said many of its purchases were due to its personalized promotions.

7. Mobile integrations

The Starbucks mobile app can integrate with a number of other apps such as Spotify.

In addition, in its bid to grow engagement on its app, Starbucks offers free music and games as part of its loyalty program. Loyal customers who play the games in the app can earn bonus stars that they can redeem with their next order.

8. Member specials

Customers who are part of the Starbucks loyalty program are invited to special member events.

They can also send gift cards to friends and other program members through the app.

Not to mention, loyal Starbucks customers get to know ahead-of-time about new product releases and seasonal products.

Lessons learnt from the Starbucks Loyalty Program

As you can see the Starbucks loyalty program offers a ton of value to its customers and its app acts a major opportunity to create and drive brand loyalty.

So what can you do that fits your customers and your loyalty program?

1. Offer personalized experiences

Personalization and customization go a long way in driving customer loyalty and building customer retention.

Personalized experiences make customers feel special and appreciated, which entices them to be loyal and spend more. 

"When the shopping experience was highly personalized, customers indicated that they were 110% more likely to add additional items to their baskets and 40% more likely to spend more than they had planned." (The Boston Consulting Group)

When customers were asked to rate certain retailers, as part of the BCG survey, those who experienced "a high level of personalization provided net promoter scores that were 20% higher than those customers who experienced a low level of personalization."

2. Offer perks

One of the top reasons customers join loyalty programs is to enjoy perks.

These perks can vary depending on your industry, store size, and the products you sell.

Your perks can include discounts, special offers, free shipping, free samples, among other ideas.

3. Explain how the program works

It's important, though, to explain how exactly your loyalty program works and how and when they can redeem points.

You can do so by creating a loyalty program explanatory page that includes all the details your customers need to know or that you'd like to share with them.

If you're using Gameball, an explanatory page is already included within your widget. Here's an example below. When a customer opens your website, they'll see a small button that says rewards. Once they click it they'll see the widget in full view.

MyDeliFresh uses Gameball. Within the widget there's a 'What's this button?' If you click it you'll be taken to the next slider which explains how the rewards program works.

Example of a restaurant loyalty program widget by Gameball
Here's a restaurant that's using Gameball's loyalty widget on its website.

Have a look at what the Starbucks loyalty program explanatory page looks like.

Building loyalty with Gameball

You now know what the Starbucks loyalty program has to offer, why customers use it, and tips to create a similar program.

You're probably wondering: How can I create a loyalty program and add it to my store?

That's where we've got you covered.

Gameball is a customer engagement and retention platform that enables business owners and marketing and operations managers to easily integrate a loyalty, rewards, and referral programs into their websites.

We're constantly adding new integrations to our product. So whether you have a website, Shopify, WooCommerce or Magento store, you can still integrate Gameball with them.

Gameball's loyalty program can be integrated with multiple platforms and CRMs.
Gameball's loyalty program can be integrated with multiple platforms and CRMs.

If you're thinking of a mobile app, you'll have to reach out to our support team for information at:

Although this article, more or less, focuses on coffee shop and restaurant loyalty programs, Gameball can be used with any industry or business.

Benefits of using Gameball's loyalty program

Here are a few more opportunities you get when you use Gameball's loyalty program, along with some additional tips.

1. Gamified loyalty program

Gameball offers gamified loyalty programs, which means customers – who we call Players – feel like they're in a game.

After they sign up to your store, they're presented with a dashboard offering them ways to earn points that they can redeem later for special discounts and perks.

Like a game, a gamified loyalty program offer various levels with requirements that entice customers to complete to rise up and get better rewards.

2. Customizable options

As a store owner or marketing manager, you can customize almost everything there is in a Gameball loyalty program. From the way it looks, to how customers earn rewards, to offering fun personalized experiences.

You can also use our customized messages or push notifications to remind customers about an abandoned cart, a special discount, an upcoming offer, or a new product that you just added to your store or menu.

3. Multiple opportunities for points

In the Starbucks loyalty program and in many other programs, customers earn points for spending money.

However, with Gameball, you can do much more. In addition to buying products, Customers can also earn points when they:

  • Sign up or create an account on your website
  • Provide information like their name, gender, age…etc. You can ask more questions like if they have pets or children later on to customize what they see and their rewards.
  • Share pre-made posts across social media.
  • Take part in challenges to earn double points and badges.
  • Leave ratings and reviews to your products.
  • Refer you to friends and family. This is called referral marketing and it's a big opportunity for you to gain new customers, and for your customers to earn points by referring you to others.

4. Consider creating tiers

While the tiering system may not have worked for Starbucks, it works quite well for other brands whose programs are among the best and most popular in the world. Among these brands are cosmetics stores Sephora, Ulta Beauty, Lancôme, along with jeweler Swarovski.

Sephora loyalty program showing the different tiers and their benefits
Sephora loyalty program showing the different tiers and their benefits

Using a tiered loyalty program helps you engage customers as they're excited to try to move up and earn better rewards.

Now it's your turn!

It's natural that you won't be able to implement everything Starbucks has in your restaurant's or café's loyalty program. After all, Starbucks is the largest coffee chain in the world.

But as you can see, there are many easy opportunities that you can do for your program and store.

We chose the Starbucks loyalty program as an opportunity for learning and inspiration, because it's one of the world's most popular programs.

Now it's time for you to start your own loyalty program.

Use Gameball for unlimited personalization and great customer support. Plus you get a 14-day free trial. What are you waiting for?

If you need help with your loyalty program or have questions or suggestions, please reach out to our support team at:

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