This holiday season, Starbucks® has been stirring up controversy on social media with its alleged “War on Christmas.” Deemed “Red Cup Gate,” coffee drinkers nationwide became enraged when the corporate giant released its 2015 red holiday cups – this time, without the annual holiday design.

Having since inspired #RedCups countdowns and become a recognizable welcome to the upcoming holiday season, Starbucks® hit marketing gold in 1984 with the first red cup introduction. According to Starbucks®, “within the first 48 hours of red Starbucks® cups launching [in 2014], a photo of a Starbucks® holiday cup was shared on Instagram every 14 seconds.”

Whether you were offended by the latest red cup design or are in the #ItsJustACup camp, the Starbucks® Red Cup Controversy still offers many lessons for business owners and PR teams everywhere. It also inspired several other brands to use Christmas-inspired marketing to promote, advertise, and sell products.


Another aspect of Starbucks® marketing that does serve as productive inspiration is the Starbucks® mobile app. Available on Android and iPhone®, the app lets customers “conveniently pay for purchases, earn Stars and redeem rewards with My Starbucks Rewards®, find stores, and so much more.”

As much as the red cup debacle can serve as a cautionary tale against changing tradition, the Starbucks® mobile app serves as a reminder to always think outside the box – or red cup – for new ways to continue pushing the marketing envelope. Using this app as inspiration, small business owners can develop their own ways to improve the mobile user experience, increase sales, and connect with customers.


Mobile Order & Pay: With Mobile Order & Pay, Starbucks® loyalists can place an order and pay ahead, making sure they “always have time for that Starbucks® run.” Upon arriving at their location, customers can skip the line to pick up their preordered, freshly made coffee from the barista and even leave a digital tip. This app feature offers convenience and speed for busy moms, students, commuters, and more on-the-go.

Through the app, customers can also view their transaction history, including receipts and recent locations, as well as purchase digital gift cards.

Rewards Program: When a customer makes a purchase with their Starbucks® mobile app, she earns Stars, or points, in the My Starbucks® Rewards™ program. For the customer, this means eventually receiving personalized rewards, including free drinks or food. For businesses using similar features in their mobile apps, this means:

  • Higher conversion of new customers to return customers.
  • Higher retention of return customers.
  • Increasing sales with convenient mobile pay and personalized offers.
  • Collecting customer purchase data through the app.

Store Information: Offering even more convenience for its shoppers, the Starbucks® mobile app provides information for all Starbucks® locations across the country. If a regular customer is pre-ordering his drink, he can send it to his most frequented location. If a customer is someplace new, she can find the closest Starbucks® location to walk in to.

Through the app, all shoppers can access store hours, directions, and phone numbers. Also through the app, Starbucks® can use location-based services to serve personalized push notifications to users wherever they may be in an effort to encourage a sale.

Message Center: In the app message center, Starbucks® can directly communicate with and track the actions of app users. These communications include marketing promotions or exclusive offers, like the “Pick of the Week,” free music and app downloads. Presumably, Starbucks® can track open rates, click-throughs, and even attribute sales and affiliate advertising to a specific marketing action.

Menu: Included in the Starbucks® app is their food and drink menu. A handy tool for novice Starbucks® drinkers, the menu lets them find and decode new drink orders. It’s also useful for highlighting temporary or seasonal items to all customers. The menu even lists nutritional information and allergens for the mindful coffee drinker. With this app feature, customers can easily access the information they need to make a purchase.


The Starbucks® mobile app has a clear understanding of its customers and their needs. To provide an effective mobile app environment, Starbucks® marketers have created innovative solutions to these needs in order to make sure “great coffee is always at hand.” When creating their own mobile app, small business owners should also ensure a clear vision of their user in order to provide the best possible solutions in a mobile app.

To download your own Starbucks® mobile app, visit the App Store or Google Play store from your mobile device.


All photos by Starbucks® 

This blog was not endorsed by Starbucks® nor is Starbucks® a client of Advice Mobile. This blog is meant for informational purposes only and was not written with the aid of Starbucks®.