If you went to Starbucks on Friday and failed to get one of its reusable red cups, you were not alone.
And if you tried to get on to its app to order a drink and found yourself locked out, you were not alone, either.
A number of customers across the United States complained on social media that they were unable to obtain one of the red cups that Starbucks promised to give them if they ordered one of its holiday beverages.
I was among the people who were unsuccessful in nabbing one of the cups, and I still couldn’t log into the Starbucks app late Friday afternoon.
“Our sincere apologies. This was not a scheduled maintenance and we are aware of the difficulties customers are experiencing,” Starbucks said on its Twitter account. “We’re working quickly to resolve them.”
However, the error message on my Starbucks app read: “We are currently down for scheduled maintenance. Check back soon.”
“We’re currently experiencing a temporary outage of our mobile app,” a Starbucks spokeswoman, Maggy Jantzen, said. “We continue to welcome and serve customers in our stores.”
Jantzen said each store had a limited supply of cups, “and we’re aware that some stores are already running out.” If a customer did not get a free red cup and would still like to receive the offer of 50 cents off on holiday beverages, they can purchase a cup $2.50, she said.
It wasn’t clear when stores would be re-stocked with red cups.
It’s been impossible to miss Starbucks’ fervent promotion of this year’s holiday cups, which were introduced on Thursday, as well as its latest beverages. On Friday, I received an email from Starbucks at 8:56 am ET, inviting me to “hurry in for your first taste of the season!”
It touted the company’s three holiday drinks — the Caramel Brulee Latte, Peppermint Mocha and Toasted White Chocolate Mocha — and also featured the “Free, Limited-Edition Red Reusable Cup!”
Starbucks declared: “Today only (!), get a free red reusable cup when you order your favorite holiday drink*. Then bring it back all season long after 2 p.m. for 50¢ off grande handcrafted holiday beverages.” (*While supplies last. At participating stores.)”
It enthusiastically promoted the special on social media as well.
Nope! We’ll be giving away the red reusable cup with every holiday drink purchase all day!
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) November 1, 2018
Given that reassurance, I decided to let the morning-rush-hour crowd die down at my local Starbucks, where it has taken me as long as 20 minutes to get my drink if I use the drive-through window (more on that later).
Before I set off, I tapped on the Starbucks app on my mobile phone to place my order, only to find to my surprise that I had been logged out of it. When I tried to log back in, I received an error message. And after I could log back in, I found that I could not access the beverage menu or see my prior orders, and the list of stores that I frequent had vanished.
So I left home around noon, figuring I’d just order my drink at the store. By the time I pulled in, the order clerk told me that the store had run out of reusable cups. I decided not to get anything, and drove off.
I was 0 for 2, as they say in the baseball world, in trying to nab a holiday beverage, and others were, too.
Be kind to the Starbucks folks working in the stores today. Between the red cup giveaway and the mobile app network going down they’re not having a good morning. pic.twitter.com/Q4hMM9YdiK
— Laurie Van Thiel (@laurieinseattle) November 2, 2018
Starbucks has been actively encouraging customers to use the mobile app and drive-through features in its quest to streamline the amount of time that they spend picking up their drinks. In its earnings report on Thursday, Starbucks said that more than 50% of beverages in the U.S. are now ordered through the app and/or picked up at drive-through windows. That’s up 10% in two years.
Starbucks says that 80% of its new stores have drive-through windows, and notes that stores with drive-throughs outperform its cafe-only stores.
But service has been a bumpy situation, as I’ve learned through experience.
I live about five minutes from the aforementioned Starbucks, and I generally place my drive-through order as soon as I get in the car. At an off-peak time, like mid-afternoon, I can simply drive up to the big order screen, give my name, and drive around to collect my drink.
However, if I go during rush hour, there’s no telling how long it will take to get my drink. Recently, I placed my order from home, then arrived to find nine cars ahead of me. The entire process from order to collection took 20 minutes.
By the time I got my drink, the cold foam on top had melted down, leaving me with about three-quarters of a drink, and the croissant I had ordered warmed was cold.
Starbucks’ customer service was sympathetic and loaded $10 onto my gold Starbucks Rewards card to make up for the mishap, but the contretemps made me late for my weekly bowling league, and made me vow never to visit that Starbucks during rush hour again.
Of course, I don’t have any money in the company, beyond what I spend on drinks, and investors were thrilled with Starbucks’ latest earnings report, driving its stock up more than $6 a share on Friday, to just under $65 as the market prepared to close.
But the reusable cup and app situation shows how quickly consumers can get testy when they can’t obtain what the company has promised them.