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Starbucks Moves the Needle Again

Ethan Chernofsky
November 18, 2020
Starbucks Moves the Needle Again

Just when we thought we’d praised the coffee giant enough over its Pumpkin Spice Latte launch, Starbucks took another step that left us watching with awe.

Red Cup Day. How effective was it? Shockingly effective.

And if you thought Black Friday was doomed, or the only card offline retail had to play this season, Veteran’s day data indicates something very different.

Setting the Benchmark - Starbucks’s Performance

To put things in context, Starbucks has been seeing a steady visit improvement when looking at monthly visits year over year. October saw visits down just 19.6%, the best mark since the onset of the pandemic. This speaks to the brand’s strength especially when issues in morning traffic should affect it more than most.

But the national picture has been mixed. Though visits in Texas were down just 7.0% in October, California and New York visits were down 30.7% and 29.4% respectively year over year. And this matters a lot. While Texas has the second most locations of any state, California has nearly double that amount, and New York is the fourth largest in terms of locations. This means that declines in California simply matter more than in other states. So not only is the brand rebounding, but it is doing so with incredible pace considering the slower recovery in California and other key states.

The Red Cups Are Coming

The Red Cups did indeed come along and the impact was massive. Visits on November 6th were 86.9% above the daily visit baseline for the period from November 2019 through November 8th, 2020. This marked the third most trafficked day of the period behind just Black Friday 2019 and the day after Christmas in 2019.

To be clear, a collectible cup created such a degree of urgency that it drove visits that surpassed all but two days over the last year, even amid rising COVID numbers. 

Looking at visits nationwide and in key states, week over week, saw a dramatic impact across the board. California and New York saw visits jump 19.8% and 23.3% respectively, with the latter coming in ahead of the national pace. And this is key to track. If Red Cups can prove capable of not just producing an insane one-day spike, but actually boosting the pace of the recovery in key states, the impact would be enormous.

And the trickle-down was even evident in major DMAs that have been heavily impacted by an exodus to the suburbs. Both the LA and NY DMAs saw major week-over-week jumps in traffic with the two areas seeing increases of 19.7% and 30.7% respectively.

Veteran’s Day Boost

Another promising sign came on Wednesday, November 11th - Veterans Day. Looking at year over year visits the days preceding it there was little sign of the retail recovery we’ve been experiencing. Yet, that changed when retailers leveraged the day off to drive interest and urgency. Nike visits were up over 100% year over year on Wednesday, while At Home, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Best Buy were up 92.1%, 47.0%, and 53.6% respectively. Critically though, the key takeaway is not about Veteran’s Day, but about offline retail’s continued ability to drive interest and engagement even in the current environment.

Malls - both indoor and outdoor - also saw a jump with each of the five analyzed seeing significantly smaller year over year visit gaps or huge increases on Veteran’s Day. This success speaks to two important lessons. Firstly, those assuming Black Friday is going to be much smaller than normal may be underestimating the pull of offline retail during the holiday season. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, retailers are showing that in a season where a single day or weekend cannot be relied upon, that other avenues and days can be found to drive engagement.

Will Red Cups be the thing that pushes Starbucks to 2019 levels faster than expected? How significant could California’s winter be to Starbucks’s nationwide data? Are more retail spikes coming this November? Visit to find out.

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