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In the October 2013 edition of Dealer magazine, I examined a phenomenon that occurred last Christmas.
Partnering with luxury shopping site Gilt.com, Starbucks offered an ultra-exclusive steel metal loyalty card for sale on their site for $450. The loyalty cards came pre-loaded with $400 in Starbucks credit and there were only 5,000 available. You might think nobody would want to pay $450 for a loyalty card that they could get for free, but you’d be wrong. The cards sold out in 6 minutes generating $2,225,000 in sales. Almost immediately, these cards were listed on eBay and have sold for $2500 and up. In fact, even a year later, cards with no pre-loaded credit are still selling upwards of $625.
This month, Starbucks again offered these metal loyalty cards for sale. However, this time they only made 1,000 of them. According to an article in USA Today, “the company made a ‘deliberate decision’ to make even fewer metal cards this year.” Group president, Cliff Burrows, is quoted in the article as saying “It’s now more special. We’ve elevated it to a new level.” This gift bestows upon the owner an instant Gold level status within their rewards program for a year. To maintain that status after the year, they must make purchases that would earn it just like anyone else.
With 5,000 metal cards already in circulation from last year’s sale, you’d think that the novelty of the card would have worn off and that those that wanted one would have found it by now. Introducing 1,000 more into the market simply means that 6,000 people will now own a metal loyalty card. That’s really not a lot considering that the card is good at any Starbucks location worldwide. To put it into perspective, if the cards were only sold in the United States, that would mean that, on average, only 120 people in each state would own one.
The demand for these cards; and the prestige that one gets form being able to whip out this metal card while the baristas and other consumers gawk; is apparently still very strong. This year’s stock of the 1,000 cards sold out in seconds, according to NBC News. The article goes on to say that the Gilt.com website received 2.5 times the traffic it did on Cyber Monday. Within 30 minutes of the cards going live there were over 11,000 people signed up on a wait-list to purchase one.
The Starbucks loyalty card program is one of the strongest in existence. “Our Starbucks card had its best holiday season in history, as measured by any metric, with more than $1 billion loaded during Q1, the most ever loaded onto any kind of Starbucks card.” Said CEO Howard Schultz.
These new metal cards are currently selling on eBay for upwards of $1,700+ dollars; and that’s before a single card has even been shipped by Gilt. With Christmas quickly approaching, the demand for these will only increase as people scramble to find that one-of-a-kind gift. The fanaticism and demand for these exclusive, hand-made loyalty cards, is testament to the strong brand and loyalty program that Starbucks has been able to develop over the years. For a company to transform its loyalty card from one that is hardly top of mind other than at the point of sale, to that of a coveted status symbol, is phenomenal.
Starbucks has proven once again that customers want to feel special. B offering an elite limited edition loyalty card, they’ve transformed 6,000 people into brand advocates while generating publicity that money can’t buy.