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“Why We Hate Starbucks”

Since the first time it served coffee in the United States forty years ago, Starbucks has not ceased from evoking various sentiments from people all over the world. In its four decades of existence, it has succeeded in attracting the attention of the public who both loved and hated it.

Little said that Starbucks is “a megalithic corporate company that is literally on every street in its birthplace, downtown Seattle”. The coffee company’s focus to be on every street in Seattle where it started its operations and eventually, every part of the globe, is what most people hate about it, noted Little, who described this dedicated action as “world domination”.

By Starbucks’ sheer strength in numbers, it is able to buy out its competitors and dominate the world market. Little compared Starbucks to Microsoft:

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Starbucks (like Microsoft across Lake Washington) is in the paradoxical position of enjoying market supremacy and broad disdain at the same time. From labor issues to fair trade to ‘promoting sexuality’ to charges of homogenization, they are under constant scrutiny and criticism. (Little)

This seeming commitment of Starbucks to dominate world markets irritates people as they either buy out or topple neighborhood coffee shops trying to thrive against the global coffee brand which enjoys enormous buying power, argued Little. Starbucks’ power makes survival difficult for small players who have to contend with issues such as retaining customers and fighting increasing rents as a result of the coffee giant’s presence in the area.

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One can go anywhere in the world and will find a Starbucks shop. No doubt people just line up to get a taste of Starbucks because the coffee shop succeeded in dominating the market. Even China loves Starbucks. (See Figure 1)

But there are also many reasons why the public are fond of Starbucks. For one, it embodies a social phenomenon.

Starbucks offers a solution to a serious and growing need that is found throughout the world, and no, that need is not caffeine addiction, it is simply the need to relax. (Page)

Page further noted that every Starbucks shop offers the same drinks. However, he concluded that what makes Starbucks stand out is the “escape” it offers through “a calm, almost religious happiness that surrounds the industrial coffee makers and earthy-toned pictures that make up the interior décor (Page).

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With the escape it offers, Starbucks draws people of all types to its shops and treats them fairly.

Arguing that Starbucks can survive even without offering coffee, Page drove his point by liking the coffee shop to fast food chain McDonald’s.

My analogy would be a classic one. Starbucks is McDonald’s. Neither are good. But are built upon standard blocks: consistency, branding, social gathering (Page).

If that is the case, many reasons then abound for people to either love or hate Starbucks. It may not be loved for the coffee it offers, which some people consider not quite up to their taste, for its passion for world domination, and other things but it does provide an escape that is just too hard for people to resist.

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The fact that Starbucks got the attention of coffee drinkers in China is already a sign of success because it is not easy for corporations to survive in that country with people there easily expressing their dissatisfaction over a product or brand through various channels.

Although Starbucks experienced trouble in 2007 after Chinese bloggers bashed the brand of globalization for setting up shop inside the Forbidden City and fanned nationalist sentiments for serving coffee instead of the well-loved tea that Chinese usually serve, as cited in a Christian Science Monitor report that appeared in MSN Money in 2007, it had won the support of coffee drinkers in the country by taking down its sign and doing business discreetly in the area.

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Authors James K. Yuann and Jason Inch of the book titled “Supertrends of future China: billion dollar opportunities for China”, wrote:

As the Starbucks case showed, and many other cases before it, Chinese consumers can quickly amass public sentiment against corporations online in their BBs and blogs (190).

But the coffee company weathered the trial. How Starbucks manages to both entertain and anger people is quite amazing. A brand can either stand out for its strengths or be ditched easily for its perceived failures. But the Starbucks case is different. It manages to persuade people to line up just to be in its shops and enjoy a peaceful escape from the demands of everyday life, and at the same time, evokes anger for its desire to dominate the world market by setting up shop in almost every corner where a relatively significant number of people pass by.

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Starbucks may be criticized and loved at the same time but how it manages to balance the public sentiment and channel the emotions of consumers toward the brand is a feat in itself that is just quite hard to explain, much less define.

People can argue all they want but at the end of the day, the fact that Starbucks elicits such reactions only show that it is a globally established brand that is consistent in gathering people together and providing them an escape.

Aside from the attractive solution Starbucks offers people who long for that peace while sipping their lattes ordered with terms that tend to confuse people, for example, using “tall” instead of “small”, and after a series of questions thrown by baristas to customers, which may tend to irritate customers or cause them to wonderwhy do they have to go through such an ordeal for a cup of coffee, Starbucks is revered for being an American success story and a purveyor of globalization.

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However, its being at the forefront of civilization cannot totally be qualified as a positive point as many quarters in various parts of the world view it as insensitivity to the sentiments of neighborhood coffee shop owners who suffer severely because of Starbucks’ presence.

The small coffee shop owners bear the price for the increased rents in the area where Starbucks opens and the loss of customers who tend to transfer to the admired shops of Starbucks which offer an ambience that is far different from those they are used to.

Page summarized the public’s positive sentiment toward Starbucks:

Starbucks could very well operate without even selling coffee. They could charge an entrance fee and offer nothing else but a room and a mellow Bob Marley music playing softly in the background and people would still come. (Page)

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On another note, Little said it well, when he wrote:

There are many loving fawning and loyal fans of Starbucks. One guy is trying to visit every Starbucks on the Planet. But they are all the same, right? ...Like most things, Starbucks is not all good or all bad but capable of both. (Little)

But as it is, Starbucks is undeniably a brand that is both loved and hated for many reasons.

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