Starbucks is today launching its blockchain-based loyalty program and NFT community, Starbucks Odyssey, for its first group of US beta testers. The new initiative, that contains coffee-themed NFTs that translate to real-world experiences, is an extension of Starbucks’ existing loyalty program, Starbucks Rewards, but uses web3 technology such as the polygon blockchain and NFTs.
Announced to investors earlier this year, the coffee chain giant said it envisioned Starbucks Odyssey as a way for its most loyal customers to earn a broader, more diverse set of rewards beyond the perks they can earn today, such as free drinks. Instead, Odyssey is introducing a new platform where customers can participate in interactive activities called “Journeys” that, when completed, allow members to earn collectible Journey Stamps – which is Starbucks’ less-crazy name for NFTs.
The Journeys are designed to promote the Starbucks brand and educate customers about coffee and the company’s history. They can include all kinds of activities, such as watching videos or taking quizzes, playing puzzles, or even going to the store to try new drinks that the company wants to promote. The last example is part of what makes Starbucks Odyssey more interesting than some of the other NFT business initiatives, because it actually ties into the company’s existing loyalty program, business goals, and mobile payment technologies, rather than functioning as a quick-to-use fit addition.
In the case of Journeys tied to in-store purchases, Odyssey members scanned their existing Starbucks Rewards card upon purchase of the required drink or menu item, and that activity would then be shared with Odyssey, earning the member points.
At around 500 points, members earn stamps, i.e. a coffee-themed NFT hosted on the Polygon blockchain. These stamps also unlock special experiences. There are three levels of perks and experiences that can be unlocked. At the lower end, these could be online experiences, such as a virtual class that teaches you how to make espresso martinis, or give you access to unique artist merchandise. As you earn more points and NFTs, you can access real world experiences such as special events hosted at Starbucks Reserve Roasteries or even a trip to the Starbucks Hacienda Alsacia coffee farm in Costa Rica.
Points accumulate over the course of the year, rather than being redeemed for rewards (such as stars). At the end of the year, the points are reset and you start over. But you’ll still keep your NFTs, which will later integrate with the Starbucks app so customers can customize their Starbucks card or perhaps print it on other merchandise.
As the Odyssey program launches in beta, the first Journey Stamps will also be those designed with inspiration from Starbucks history, such as the first location in Seattle’s Pike Place Market; others will feature classic designs and this year’s “Gift-Wrapped Magic” Christmas cup art.
The company declined to confirm how many customers have joined the waiting list, but said demand “far exceeded expectations”. It will now begin letting some of those waitlisted users in to test Odyssey and provide feedback on the initial experience, which it will use to further tweak the program. Users will receive an email if they are invited to the beta and then have three days to participate. If they don’t, they will return to the waiting list for a future invite.
To access Starbucks Odyssey after receiving an invite, members must have an existing Starbucks Rewards account, as this program is tied into the company’s larger loyalty initiative. (There are no separate accounts just for Odyssey.)
When members participate in Odyssey, they earn NFTs, which have a point value based on their rarity. That means that in addition to being tied to real-world experiences, the NFTs can also be bought or sold on Odyssey’s marketplace, which will launch in 2023. This component is powered by Nifty Gateway, with NFT ownership secured on the blockchain.
Starbucks also simplifies the NFT purchase process as it does not require members to have a crypto wallet, own cryptocurrency or have any knowledge of the underlying web3 technologies. Aside from removing the word “NFT” from Odyssey’s jargon, members can purchase the “Stamps” with a credit card just like any other online purchase.
“It happens to be built on blockchain and web3 technologies, but the customer – to be honest – may not even know that what they are doing is interacting with blockchain technology. It’s just the enabler,” Starbucks CMO Brady Brewer told ExamPaper in a September interview.
For the coffee chain, the program allows the company to engage its most loyal customers and build a community, but also offers a potential revenue stream. Starting next year, it will release Limited Edition stamps, which members can purchase to support various charities. The artwork on these NFTs is co-created by Starbucks and outside artists, while “a portion” of sales support charities chosen by Starbucks employees and customers. (The company wouldn’t say yet how much of the remaining revenue it would keep.) These stamps will be issued four to six times a year.
While many corporate forays into the NFT market are gimmicky and ill-conceived, Starbucks has been more cautious about its approach to web3. The company said it had been researching blockchain technologies for a few years but had only been involved in this particular project for about six months. Brewer previously said the company didn’t want to treat its investment as a “stunt project,” but rather use the technology to expand its existing loyalty program.
Starbucks also enlisted Adam Brotman, the architect of its Mobile Order & Pay system and the Starbucks app, to serve as a special advisor to Odyssey. Now the co-founder of Forum3, a web3 loyalty startup, Brotman’s team worked with the coffee chain’s own marketing, loyalty and technology teams in Seattle, the company said.
In a demo of Odyssey, the program seemed easy to use. You log in, choose an avatar and go through an onboarding experience that teaches you about travel and stamps, and get to work. The company says there will always be at least two Journeys available.
The first invitations will be sent to a small group of waiting list members today, December 8. In January 2023, Starbucks will begin sending out monthly invitations to a larger group of waitlist members.