Starbucks (SBUX) is learning the hard way not to get between coffee lovers and their free venti mocha lattes.
The coffee chain is under fire from customers after changing its loyalty program so that customers must spend more to earn a free drink or treat. Under the current program, customers earn a star for each visit to Starbucks. The new system, which takes effect in April, will give two stars for each $1 spent.
That might not sound bad, but the catch comes in how Starbucks will start doling out rewards based on stars. Currently, it takes 30 visits to earn "gold" status, and then another 12 visits to earn a free drink or treat. The new system will require customers to earn 300 stars to merely reach "gold" status, and then earn an additional 125 stars to receive a freebie.
"Your new loyalty program requires your loyal supporters to spend 25 percent more than the current program to earn a reward," one customer wrote on Twitter, adding the hashtag #unrequited.
Other Starbucks customers vowed to switch to other coffee chains, with a few pointing out that Dunkin' Donuts reward system offers more to customers. Dunkin' Donuts' program rewards a free drink for every $40 customers spend at the chain.
By comparison, Starbucks' new system will require customers to spend $62.50 to get a free drink, although that's after they've already reached the "gold" level.
On Starbucks' Facebook page, customers are venting their spleen, calling the changes "a joke," "really bad" and "pretty stupid." Others lamented that it will take them much longer -- and require more spending -- for them to reach the "gold" level. Many told Starbucks they planned to stop buying their coffee at its stores.
Starbucks didn't immediately return a request for comment.
The company said the changes were made in response to customer feedback, and claimed that earning rewards will be "just as fast or faster" for gold-level members. For others, though, it "might mean taking a little longer to get that free treat," the company acknowledged on its website.
The changes may hurt small spenders the most, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. A customer spending $2 for regular coffee would earn a free item after spending $24 over 12 visits, but the new system will require them to visit more than 31 times -- spending about $62.50 -- to earn the freebie.
But even big spenders were annoyed by the change, with one customer writing on Facebook, "A venti espresso drink is around $4.65ish pre-tax in my neck of the woods. I assume the taxes we pay does not get counted towards our stars. So now I need to buy about 13.4 drinks instead of 12 to get the freebie. Not a fan of this change to the rewards program."
Another customer added, "Way to reward your loyal customers, Starbucks."
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