Starbucks Loyalty Program Case Study

Share the article

Starbucks, renowned as one of the foremost coffee brands globally, owes its success not just to its exceptional range of products. A significant contributor to its widespread acclaim is its highly popular loyalty program, which has been an inspiration for many U.S. restaurant chains and retail stores. Launched on December 26th, 2009, the Starbucks rewards program has amassed over 30 million active members, contributing to nearly 60% of the brand's total revenue. The program effectiveness was strikingly evident in 2019, with Starbucks reporting a substantial 7% increase in sales primarily attributed to the efficacy of its rewards program.

Program type 

  • Points system
  • Points for rewards
  • Coalition Loyalty

Points system

Starbucks Rewards leverages a points-based system ingeniously designed to enhance customer engagement and loyalty. Members accumulate 'Stars' with each purchase made via their registered Starbucks Card or through the Starbucks mobile app.  The program is structured to encourage varied forms of engagement, enhancing the overall customer experience and brand loyalty.

  • Earn 1 Star per $1 spent when you pay in cash
  • Earn 2 Stars per $1 spent when you preload your digital Starbucks Card
  • Earn additional bonus Stars through special promotions
  • Earn double Stars on Delta Airlines travel days
  • Earn double Stars on promotional days
  • Points expire after 6 months
Starbucks Rewards - Earn Stars


Starbucks Rewards allows its members to redeem their accumulated Stars at various levels, each unlocking distinct rewards. This structure caters to diverse preferences, allowing customers to either redeem their Stars for immediate benefits or save them for more substantial rewards.

  • 25 Stars: Redeem for a free drink customization, such as extra flavor, espresso shot, or alternative milk.
  • 50 Stars: Get a complimentary hot coffee, tea, or bakery item like a bagel or croissant.
  • 150 Stars: Choose a free handcrafted drink, hot breakfast, or a parfait.
  • 200 Stars: Earn a complimentary lunch item, like a salad, sandwich, or protein box.
  • 400 Stars: Exchange for packaged coffee beans or select Starbucks merchandise.
Starbucks Rewards - Redeem Stars

Coalition loyalty

Starbucks and Delta Airlines have embarked on a partnership, merging the world of coffee with the skies. Linking your Delta SkyMiles® and Starbucks® Rewards accounts opens up a new realm of earning opportunities and exclusive benefits.

  • Travel-day perks: Double Stars on Delta travel days
  • Everyday earn: 1 mile per $1* spent at Starbucks
  • Exclusive offers: More opportunities to earn Stars and miles
Starbucks Rewards & Delta Skymiles

Interesting takeaways

Multi-channel communication

Starbucks leverages multiple channels to communicate about its rewards program, ensuring widespread awareness and engagement. The use of a dedicated landing page, mobile app, points balance reminder emails, company blogs, and social media platforms creates an ecosystem where information about the program is readily accessible and consistently updated. The clarity and frequency of updates, including press releases for significant changes, demonstrate Starbucks’ commitment to transparency. This approach not only keeps existing members informed but also attracts new participants by clearly outlining the program’s benefits. Good communication is likely a significant factor in the program's high membership numbers.

Program simplicity and incentive structure

The simplicity of the points system (earn points and redeem for rewards) is user-friendly and easy for customers to grasp. This clarity enhances the appeal of the program and encourages participation. The structured nature of rewards incentivizes customers to accumulate more points to access greater rewards. This gamification element adds an extra layer of engagement, as customers are motivated to reach the next level. As customers get closer to a significant reward, their motivation to attain it increases. This psychological aspect of goal setting and achievement is a powerful tool in enhancing customer loyalty and encouraging more frequent purchases.

Incentivizing preloaded payments

Starbucks ingeniously incentivizes customers to preload their Starbucks account by offering double points for purchases made using a preloaded Starbucks Card. By preloading their accounts, customers commit themselves financially to future purchases at Starbucks, which effectively guarantees a degree of customer loyalty and repeat business. This strategy turns occasional visitors into regular customers, as the preloaded funds will likely be used exclusively at Starbucks locations. From a financial perspective, this strategy is beneficial for Starbucks. When customers preload their accounts, the brand receives cash in advance, improving its cash flow. This tactic also promotes increased engagement with the Starbucks mobile app, where preloading and tracking of rewards can be easily managed. 

Coalition program with Delta Airlines

The partnership with Delta SkyMiles is a strategic move that broadens the program’s appeal. By collaborating with an airline, Starbucks extends its reach beyond the typical coffee shop customer. This alliance allows both companies to tap into each other’s customer bases, potentially attracting new customers who are loyal to one brand to become interested in the other. It’s a creative way to expand market reach without direct competition. For customers who already patronize both brands, this coalition loyalty program reinforces their loyalty and increases their engagement with both Starbucks and Delta. It creates a more integrated customer experience and can deepen the sense of brand loyalty.

Areas of improvement

The removal of the tiers system

The previous iteration of the program had a 'Gold' tier, which was a smart way to acknowledge and reward the most loyal customers. By offering them the ability to earn points faster and providing exclusive benefits, Starbucks recognized and cherished its most valuable customers. This tier system not only incentivized increased spending but also gave a sense of exclusivity and status. While simplifying the program might make it more accessible for new customers, it risks diminishing the perceived value for power shoppers. The elimination of the tier system could lead to a decrease of engagement from these highly valuable customers.

Lack of personalized engagement or rewards

In the current market, personalization is key to customer engagement. Starbucks’ generic approach to rewards and communication, without considering individual customer preferences and behaviors, is a missed opportunity. Personalizing rewards and communications could significantly enhance customer loyalty and encourage repeat business. Leveraging customer data to offer personalized rewards and product recommendations could not only improve customer satisfaction but also drive product discovery and sales.

Limited post-purchase engagement

Post-purchase engagement is crucial in maintaining a connection with the customer even after they leave the store. This ongoing engagement is essential for converting first-time buyers into regular customers. While Starbucks has started initiatives like Starbucks Odyssey, which offers additional ways to earn rewards through digital journeys, its integration with the main rewards program appears to be lacking. A more seamless integration could enhance the overall experience and effectiveness of the loyalty program. Recognizing that some of these initiatives are in their early stages, there is potential for growth and improvement.

Case Studies: Loyalty Programs
Read our analysis of some of the most popular loyalty and rewards programs in the world. Learn how to create the most effective loyalty strategies and avoid pitfalls.

Learn from our library of loyalty program case studies

This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some are essential to make our site work; others help us improve the user experience. By using the site, you consent to the placement of these cookies.

Read our Privacy Policy