You have to admire Jerry Baldwin’s understanding of the American consumer. He correctly realized that Americans purchase most products not based on quality, but rather on perceived status and imagined quality, an impetus derived from following the herd.
Any consumer with even the most remotely discerning tastebuds would react rather harshly after tasting the burned, bitter coffee that they serve up at such impressively high prices at Starbucks, but therein lies the genius of Baldwin. If he had served up such crap at low prices, the consumer would have rejected it. However, since the price puts it in the premium, or “gourmet” category, the consumer made the assumption that Starbucks must be extremely high quality coffee and they should not trust their own tastebuds. Other people are lining up to pay $4+ for a cup of coffee, so it has to be good, right? Don’t trust those lying tastebuds!
Starbucks just might be the most successful marketing campaign ever directed at the trend suckers that comprise the higher end of the consumer market. Always looking at the latest trend with an eye for getting there first, Starbucks created a fantasy, wrapped in a groovy logo and charged top dollar for it. The lemmings climbed over each other to get their hands on it and the rest is history.
This of course, flies in the face of the “rational consumer”, as that theory would predict the failure of Starbucks and their replacement with a new coffee business that produces a truly high quality, fine tasting product. When a taste test completed by Consumer Reports placed McDonald’s coffee higher than the best that Starbucks had to offer, the consumer should have gasped loudly, smashed his collectible cup, cut up his Starbucks Card and run to the nearest McDonald’s or at least a locally owned coffee shop. Not a chance. More than likely they never heard about the test, and if they had, they would reject it because it doesn’t support their trained opinion.
Another interesting part of a visit to Starbucks is that the baristas have the audacity to place a tip jar on the counter. Once they serve your coffee, the job is only half done as you have to take your coffee to the sidebar to add sugar and milk. Then you have to clean your table and put your refuse in the trash. It might be more appropriate to actually take a little out of the tip jar for your own compensation for doing part of their job.
It will be interesting to see if they can survive the current tailspin of the economy. I think in the long term, they will slowly disappear from the landscape due to declining disposable income, but it’s difficult to truly estimate the stupidity of their clientele.