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Starbucks Web Site Flooded with Improvement Ideas

U.S. - Hundreds of coffee-obsessed consumers chimed in moments after Starbucks launched a Web site asking customers to pitch changes the company should make to revive its struggling U.S. business.

And they’ve kept those thoughts coming, by the thousands: Create a punch-card system with a free drink after so many purchases. Give people a free cup of birthday joe or discounts for using their own mugs. Let customers forgo long lines by ordering their usual with the swipe of a card when they walk in the door.

Skeptics have panned MyStarbucksIdea.com, unveiled at the company’s heavily attended annual meeting in mid-March, as an online suggestion box that’s already grown stale. But the heavy traffic it’s drawn and the message Starbucks is sending - that it’s listening and listening carefully - have impressed corporate marketing experts.

“Most brands do not put out a welcome mat for feedback,” said Pete Blackshaw, executive vice president of strategic services for the market research firm Nielsen Online. “Generally feedback is viewed as a cost of doing business rather than an opportunity. Starbucks is saying this is an opportunity.”

Before it went live, Chris Bruzzo, Starbucks’ chief information officer, said he was hoping a few hundred ideas would trickle in the first few days. About 300 suggestions were posted in the first hour after the shareholders meeting, which drew a crowd of 6,000 and was closely watched by Wall Street analysts hungry for details on the company’s turnaround plans. By the end of the week, more than 100,000 votes had been cast, Bruzzo said. He would not disclose how many people have posted in all.

Starbucks is promoting MyStarbucksIdea on its main corporate home page and with counter cards in stores reading “Have an idea for us?” on one side and the Web address on the back. But the company has long relied on promotion by word-of-mouth and an avid following of devotees and critics who regularly post their opinions on various Starbucks-related sites.

An algorithm built into MyStarbucksIdea pushes the most popular ideas to the top by factoring in the number of votes, how recently votes are cast and the volume of comments an idea has generated.

The first promises the company put forth in response to customers’ pitches turned out to be ones it had already made: to offer free wireless Internet access in stores and rewards through its loyalty card. Other early pitches that caught Starbucks’ attention: offering coffee classes, giving drip coffee drinkers a quicker way to buy their fix, automating orders of customized drinks to speed up service and making seating more comfortable.

Some people have proposed fixes to the site itself, complaining they couldn’t comment on the company’s blog postings. Bruzzo said that feature will be added.

Tea Output Hurt By Dry Weather

Nairobi - A prolonged dry season has caused a drastic drop in tea production by multinational tea companies in Kericho district.

The drop has lead to fears that factories in the region may halt their operations, if the long rains don’t come soon. The worst hit is Unilever Tea Kenya, whose tea crushing capacity of 700,000 kilos of green leaf has gone down to 100,000 kilos a day. As result, five out of the company’s six tea processing factories have ceased operations until further notice. The expected long rains came recently for only one week and then ceased.

Tight supplies of tea from the district, which is the country’s largest producer, are likely to be reflected in prices at the auction in the coming weeks.

The post-election violence followed the declaration of Mwai Kibaki as president by the Electoral Commission of Kenya after a presidential election that was widely condemned as flawed by international and local monitors.

Tea & Coffee - May, 2008

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