Starbucks harnesses the wisdom of crowds

21 03 2008

When a company listens to its consumers’ wants and needs, it generally produce a better, more useable product or service (that often, in turn, yields higher profits). The neologism that describes this collaboration between a company and its consumers is called crowdsourcing. Starbucks just launched, which is basically an open call to consumers to submit their own ideas or vote or comment on others. Here’s a description from the company’s refreshingly simple site:

“What would make your Starbucks experience perfect? We know you’ve got ideas—big ideas, little ideas, maybe even totally revolutionary ideas—and we want to hear them all. That’s why we created My Starbucks Idea. So you can share the ideas that matter to you and you can find out how we’re putting those ideas to work. Together, we will shape the future of Starbucks.”

The “Ideas in Action” pages announces just that – ideas that Starbucks chooses to implement. There are none so far, but I’m interested to see what they do implement. Of all the ideas submitted, the most popular (by votes) include:

  • Punch cards that lets you earn free coffee
  • Free Wi-Fi – can’t believe this hasn’t happened yet
  • Birthday Brew – free drink on your birthday
  • Offer healthier, higher protein breakfast options

Starbucks has opted not to compensate users if their ideas are chosen and implemented. I agree with the company’s strategy. Would free coffee really determine what convinces a person to voice their opinion? There is much more utility in Starbucks actually implementing a useful change than compensating a few people for coming up with (for the most part) obvious ideas. In fact, recognition would be a more appropriate and genuine reward.

Developing a dedicated customer feedback/idea site like MyStarbucksIdea is unlikely to be an effective tool for most companies. Don’t misinterpret my statement – I am an ardent supporter of Starbuck’s move. Companies with such a loyal community can generate voluntary participation; however, most cannot. The pervasiveness of web2.0 and blogs often blinds companies to the preexisting wealth of customer feedback within the firm. See my previous post on, which illustrates the type of conversations a company should be reviewing and addressing.

Bob Dylan – One more cup of coffee




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