Perception vs Reality – A Starbucks Case Study

If you haven’t heard, Starbucks coffee shops all over the US closed their doors a few weeks ago during the middle of the day to reeducate their employees. Over 7,000 Starbucks locations shutdown between 5:30-8:30pm to discussed how to best serve their customers and to learn better barista techniques.

I have a few thoughts about that I’d like to share about marketing and the difference between perception and reality.

Marketing At Its Finest

I believe this retraining was mainly a marketing ploy for a few reasons.

Why in the middle of the afternoon?

There is no reason that the reeducation couldn’t take place after hours. Having the employees stay an hour extra after the store closing for a few nights a week to be retrained would have worked just as well. My opinion, if it would have happened after hours then the reeducation would have been a non-issue. Which leads to my next point.

Any Publicity is Good, but Good Publicity is Great.

Lately the only news I’d heard about Starbucks had been bad. Their stock was dropping. McDonald’s plans to compete. Yada yada yada. I believe that this was done to change customers’ attitude about the joint from negative to positive. The afternoon closing was well publicized. In fact I heard about it happening a few days in advance. Why I needed advanced warning that I won’t be able to purchase coffee from my neighborhood coffee conglomerate for only 3 hours is beyond me. On the day of the closing I saw several news articles and heard my local radio hosts talking about it. Even some competitors helped with the hype by running special ads promoting free or reduced coffee at their place while Starbucks was down.

Perceived Value

Even after giving you my reasons for why the stunt was done in this way, I still had the urge to satisfy my curiosity. Here’s my thinking ,
"Since Starbucks lost over 21,000 hours of possible sales to make itself better, I need to go get a Starbucks and see if it is better."


It was.

The service was better.

The atmosphere felt cozier.

The mocha tasted better than it ever had.

All these things lead me to this question, "Had I not known anything about the 3 hour closing, and just happened to come in the following day, would I have noticed any difference?"

Maybe I would have noticed a few slight differences, but when I went in the day after I was looking for a difference. When I walked in expecting grand changes, I noticed grand changes. The decor gave off a home-town feeling. The music set the right mood. The barista chirped a friendly, "Hello!" The drink was perfectly soothing.

I asked the newly retrained barista if she’d noticed an increase in sales for the day and she confided that they were about $3,000 over their usual sales for the day (I went in around 7pm).

Apparently other people had the same urge as I did.

Closing Remarks

I’m not saying that all these improvements are made up in my head, there are some noticeable improvements in service and quality. I am just curious how much better it actually is now and how I would have reacted if I hadn’t known of the changes taking place.

How influenced are we by hype that it affects our experience? If we were to live without any expectation how much better/worse would we perceive things?