Business Week: Starbucks' Hard Sell of Via is Irritating Customers, Baristas

Posted on November 13, 2009

Business Week reports that Starbucks' aggressive sales pitch for its new instant coffee Via is really irritating customers and baristas alike. Baristas seem themselves as bartenders, not sales people, and really hate having to push the new product. Customers don't like the hard sell either.
It's too early to say whether Via is a success. But judging from the coffee blogs, including the company's mystarbucksidea.com, for some baristas the pressure to sell the product is intense and unwelcome. "This is the most stressful promotion I have ever experienced, and I've been with the company for seven years," a barista wrote on starbucksgossip.com. Some customers are finding the hard sell a bit exasperating, too. As one wrote: "Please no more high-pressure Via sales pitches. It's annoying it's completely out of line with Starbucks' vibe."

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Starbucks sees great potential in Via: Instant coffee is a $21 billion global market. And Starbucks made a significant investment in Via, the biggest product rollout in its history. Naturally, executives set ambitious sales goals. There, perhaps, lie the roots of the problem. Starbucks baristas typically think of themselves as akin to bartenders, not salespeople. "We were just told to place a Via 12-pack in the customer's hand while asking if they would 'like to add some Via to their order,' " blogged one barista. "I have seen more annoyed customers than enthusiastic ones from all these strong-arm sales tactics. ... Not to say it's not a good product. I think it just needs to be kept in the supermarkets next to the other Starbucks mass-market frill."
We've seen Via in our local Starbucks but so far no one has tried to sell us any. We haven't tried it, so we have no idea how it tastes. But then again we really don't drink instant unless we are in some kind of emergency situation where espresso is unavailable.
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