Starbucks Drive-Thru: Don’t Do It

Today's WSJ has an article about Starbucks' expansion into the suburbs. One of the major store changes is the addition of drive throughs because people in the suburbs can't typically walk to local establishments. The article focuses on how consumers will respond to the change. Will it make Starbucks less like Starbucks?

I don't understand why Starbucks doesn't open a store with a different name. Hasn't recent history shown us that brand expansions can lead to confusion and rejection by customers? Give the new stores an identity related to Starbucks, but one that doesn't change the original image. Make sure to point out that you serve Starbucks coffee, but that you have a different model. Brand the new stores as "Starbucks for the suburbs." I think suburbanites would like that. It would make them feel special.

So what do you think? Should Howard Schultz nix the Starbucks drive through before it goes too far?

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  • tim Windsor

    We have a Starbucks drive-through a short, well, drive from my home. I’ve used it a few times and the coffee was just as good.

    Where it may hurt them is on the ancillary stuff they sell up by the registers, such as CDs and gift cards and mugs and games. My $1.70 coffee alone (none of that frothy stuff for me) isn’t going to keep them in business.

    But, to your question, I don’t see it weakening the brand. In fact, by making it easier to get, it reinforces the notion that Starbucks is absolutely everywhere.

  • Many of the new locations in the suburbs are pRobably similar to the town I live in which means that a new Starbucks is the first Starbucks. A lot of the customers are aware of Starbucks but don’t have a preconceived notion of the Starbucks experience. In addition, a lot of residents in the town see having a Starbucks as a graduation to becoming more than just a sleepy suburb town.

  • Caribou Coffee has been doing the “drive-through and in-store” model for years. They’re not as big as Starbucks, but I had a student who managed one of them – she said they cleaned up with the commuters during drive time. A lot of their customers went there instead of Starbucks simply because of the ability to stay in their cars.

  • COD

    “Starbucks” to those of us in the burbs is simply overpriced, over roasted coffee. Drive or not drive, it does not matter.

    I’ll take Caribou over Starbucks every chance I can. Although what I really do is buy quality beans and grind them as needed each morning to brew a quality pot in the conmfort of my own home, which is still far more comfy than any coffee house.

  • We have a drivethrough Starbucks, and I have used it exactly once, because it was so slow relative to walking inside the same store. I think they also screwed up my doppio-macchiato, which I will not tolerate.

  • If a person buys their coffee at Starbucks, they most likely do so because they like the coffee. You can get other coffee elsewhere at a much cheaper price.

    Since that’s the case, making it easier and faster to get the coffee will, in my opinion, not hurt their brand name.

    In fact, it may generate even more business as those who do not feel like getting out of their cars, will now decide to use the drive-thru.

  • Rob

    Interesting. 8 out of 8 commenters disagree with me. So technically I can say I’m batting 1.000 right?

    I’m sticking to my previous views. I think it threatens the exclusivity that is inherent in the Starbucks image. They will become more like Dunkin Donuts (which, honestly, has better coffee, but I haven’t looked at their financials). Market share slips a bit as Starbucks becomes the all things to all people coffee, and gets picked apart by smart niche players. They will survive and be profitable, I’m sure, but I think profit margins and growth rates will both slow significantly.

  • Now that’s something I’ll agree with, Dunkin Donuts has much better coffee.

  • It’s a geography thing, Rob –> I think we need to move you to the coast ;-) …

    Here in Seattle, Starbucks is the Mac-Donalds of coffee; no self-respecting latte-lover would choose them over their favorite local for a good sit-down with a GREAT cuppa’espresso … compared to the beans the private guys get here, starbucks tastes watered down … but when on the road and in a hurry, just like Mac-D’s, the consistency and efficiency of starbucks is welcome … that said, I was in Augusta, GA this vacation where the only espresso machine in town belongs to a well-known Starbucks in the local B&N; and where you get that “hauty-tauty” sneer from the locals who you ask for directions to get there.

    It’s a geography thing

  • Recent post on a blog about how similar Starbucks and McDonalds are becoming.

  • Bill

    Re: David G’s comment about Augusta. I moved here in 2002. I can assure you there were many espresso machines in Augusta while you were here on vacation. At that time, however, Augusta hadn’t been overrun with chain coffee shops. Instead, people who live here knew where to go for coffee/espresso drinks at small, locally owned coffee shops where they roast their own beans. What I have also learned here is that “hauty-tauty” sneers are usually reserved for the arrogant visitors. The people here are generally very friendly to the huge majority of visitors, unless they are condescending — they just don’t have time for that — better things to do.