The BIG Idea File: Starbucks! Bring on the Behavior Bribery – How to Change Customer Behavior


Sometimes you have to wonder how much marketing is really just parenting for consumers, especially when companies use bribery to change or modify customer behavior.

And why not? It works (for both children and consumers alike).

It’s doubtful that Starbucks had parenting (or bribery) in mind when they launched their new receipt campaign, but if you think about it, that’s exactly what they are doing (only under with the fancy title: marketing).

Starbucks Receipt Campaign: Bribery Starbucks Style

Like many Starbucks customers, I try to limit myself to ONE trip a day. To dear old Mommy Starbucks, that’s bad behavior. She would like us to visit her more often, and preferably after 2 o’clock when Starbucks traffic hits an afternoon lull.

Like all good behavior modification programs, Mommy Starbucks knows that it’s important to reward good behavior. That’s probably why Starbucks introduced their receipt campaign.

It goes like this: visit any participating Starbucks BEFORE 2pm and you get a receipt that is only usable on the SAME DAY to purchase any cold drink for $2 AFTER 2pm. The aim is to get customers to make a return visit that same day and try one of their summer drinks.

It’s a win-win: Starbucks gets more afternoon customers and customers get an opportunity to try one of their summer drinks for only $2. The best part of the campaign is it doesn’t require additional signage or printing as the ‘coupon’ is the receipt.

Bribery 101: How to Change Customer Behavior

#1: Identify the Behavior Gaps – What aren’t your customers doing? Referring new customers? Making repeat purchases? Trying your new product line? Determining WHAT you want your customers to do is the first step to getting them to do it.

The more specific the better. Take the Starbucks example, for instance. Starbucks required customers to make a second purchase on the SAME day AFTER 2 pm!

#2: Design a Reward System – Create a reward system that incentivizes the EXACT behavior you want from your customers. The key with designing rewards systems is to not accidentally reward undesirable behaviors.

For example, offering big discounts for new customers often rewards the wrong behavior, namely switching providers. The same customers who switched for the perk will just as quickly switch back for a new incentive.

#3: Consistently Offer Rewards – When rolling out a new incentive designed to change behavior, it’s important to consistently offer it even though initially very few customers may take you up on it. Give them enough time to get used to the idea before calling it quits on the program.

Over the long term, it’s important to consistently deliver the rewards as loyal customers who miss out on a special perk may end up feeling neglected and may choose to go elsewhere in the future.

#4: Track Results – Build a tracking mechanism into your reward program. In the Starbucks example, the mechanism is the coupon redemption compared to the sales before 2pm.

Be sure to measure your results against the costs. So even though the Starbucks receipt campaign didn’t require additional marketing collateral, it did require internal communications and staff training to implement.

#5: Adjust Reward System – Did the bribe get the intended results? Were there any unintended consequences? Did the results justify the costs? Were there any weak points in the system?

For example, an unintended consequence of a poorly designed reward system that only incentivizes new customers is loyal customers who feel neglected because they are ineligible for any special privileges.


About Author

Carla Young, Publisher If there’s living proof that women can have it all – and then some – it’s Carla Young. Building her multiple businesses on a virtual work-at-home model, Carla is an inspiration to other mothers who want to start a lifestyle business. During her early days as a mom entrepreneur, Carla made every single mistake in the book (and a few new ones for good measure). Realizing that “doing it all” was unhealthy and unsustainable, Carla started by getting organized to the extreme, developing support systems for both her work and family. After other mothers started asking how they too could enjoy her lifestyle, Carla launched to support moms at work, at home and at play (because every mommy deserves a little me-time)!

Leave A Reply