If you’ve ever walked out of a Starbucks, infant-sized latte in hand, and thought, “Geez, this coffee’s really lacking some Silicon Valley-inspired innovation,” then good news. The brand that once tried to cash in on a dying CD industry is now leaning into the struggling Web3 marketing ecosystem in an attempt to create digital communities overflowing with, “immersive coffee experiences.” Finally.
This week, the coffee giant unveiled Starbucks Odyssey which essentially merges the company’s current rewards system with a blockchain-based NFT platform. Currently, Starbucks rewards members earn stars when they make purchases, which can then be redeemed for a free coffee or similar item. Odyssey takes that straightforward rewards pitch and turns it on its head. Now caffeine addicts can instead earn and purchase digital collectibles as part of a Starbucks metaverse! The program, which opened up a waitlist today, will reportedly run on Polygon’s proof-of-stake blockchain network.
A Starbucks spokesperson told Gizmodo a select portion of individuals who signed up for the waitlist be the first to receive an invitation when Odyssey launches later this year. Starbucks Rewards members can continue using their service without change and aren’t required to participate in Odyssey if they don’t want to. Good news for anyone trying to cash in on their free goodies without getting tied up in the metaverse.
“Starbucks has always served as the Third Place, a place between home and work where you feel the warmth of connection over coffee, community, and belonging,” Starbucks Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Brady Brewer said in a statement. “The Starbucks Odyssey experience will extend the Third Place connection to the digital world.”
So what are these “immersive coffee experiences” anyways? According to Starbucks, Odyssey members can play interactive coffee-themed games called “journeys” which can earn them a “journey stamp” NFT. Though it’s unclear what all those games will entail, some of the journeys appear to include challenges meant to deepen the user’s knowledge of coffee and, of course, the Starbucks brand.
But wait, there’s more! If getting quizzed on bean origins wasn’t exhilarating enough, Starbucks will also happily take your money in exchange for “limited-edition stamps” each with their own assigned rarity. Users can purchase those stamps on Starbucks’ marketplace and can choose to sell them to other users.
Similar to a traditional rewards card, Odyssey members will reportedly earn points via collecting more and more stamps. Rather than simply rewarding your dollars with a cold brew though, Odyssey will award users with less consumable perks like a virtual espresso martini-making class or access to exclusive merch and events. Though marketed as a Web3 experience, Odyssey users don’t actually need to own any crypto to give Starbucks their money. Instead, users can reportedly purchase stamps directly using a credit card, without any need for a crypto wallet. Starbucks claims this extremely loose interpretation of Web3 will let members “access this new technology and claim an ownership stake in their loyalty to Starbucks.”
“By integrating into the Starbucks Rewards ecosystem and grounding the experience in coffee, connection and community, we are entering the Web3 space differently than any other brand, while deepening our members’ connection to Starbucks,” Brewer said.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Brewer said the company is looking into ways its NFT activities can translate into real-world Starbucks purchases as well. “We’ll have experiences that do link directly to customers’ behavior in our stores,” Brewer said.
Starbucks isn’t the first major retail brand to hop on the Web3 express. If anything, they’re actually pretty late to the party. Nike, for example, dipped its toes into metaverse marketing last year with its “Nikeland” virtual world built in partnership with Roblox. More recently, Nike began selling its own NFTs collections which have reportedly brought in at least $185.3 million in revenues according to Input. Luxury fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have gotten in on the action as well, with the latter holding virtual exhibits in its Vault Art Space. Hell, even fast food chains like Wendy’s have created virtual restaurants where users can earn codes for real-world food.
And while the hype surrounding “the metaverse” and Web3 definitely isn’t dead, it’s arguably a mere shadow of what it was this time last year. Back in June, leading NFT marketplace OpenSea saw its sales volume tumble by 75% compared to just two months prior, according to DappRadar data viewed by Bloomberg. Prices are dipping as well. The price floor on the once mega-popular Bored Ape yacht Club NFT collection, for example, reportedly fell about 33% around the same time. If these trends don’t change, NFTs and general metaverse marketing schemes could find themselves on life support.
Still, Starbucks wants customers to know this isn’t a quick and dirty attempt to pinch off a few extra bucks from users hopping on the latest bandwagon. No, as the company puts it, Odyssey represents the company’s earnest attempt to bring that Third Place concept to the digital world. Speaking with TechCrunch, Brewer said the company is “committed” to seeing the metaverse experiment play for the long term. “We’re bullish on the future of these technologies enabling experiences that were not possible before,” Brewer told TechCrunch.
Ironically, this isn’t the first time Starbucks has attached the “Third Place,” concept to a marketing push. The idea goes back to at least to the late 2000’s when the company was seemingly single-handedly keeping Norah Jones’s career afloat through their in-shop CD sales.
“We’re now the ‘Third Place,’” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz reportedly said in 2004. “The physical environment has become as important as anything we do, including the coffee.” Starbucks stopped selling physical CDs in its stores in 2015 following continually abysmal CD sales industry-wide.
With that in mind, the success or failure of Starbucks’s new digital Third Place really ultimately depends on whether metaverse trends follow the death path laid by the CD before it. As of now, at least, Web 3’s prospects are looking shaky at best.