August 24th 2023 marked the twentieth annual launch of Starbucks’ iconic Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL). Visit data indicates that demand for the chain’s signature fall beverage is stronger than ever.
Owning the Calendar
Starbucks excels in driving traffic to its venues during otherwise unremarkable times through recurring seasonal menus and special promotions. The company demonstrated its mastery at owning the calendar earlier this summer through its “WinsDays” deals, which offered Starbucks Rewards members 50% off cold drinks when ordering through the app on Wednesdays July 26th, August 2nd, and August 9th. The promotion drove traffic to the chain during the typical midweek lull and may have gotten visitors excited about the main event later in the month – the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.
So when the fall-themed drink hit Starbucks stores on Thursday August 24th, visits spiked once more. Just how big was the spike compared to previous years? We dove deeper into the foot traffic metrics to find out.
Pumpkin Spice Throughout the Years
Visits on Pumpkin Spice Latte drop day were on a steady upward trend during the years leading up to the pandemic. But visits on 2020’s PSL launch were – unsurprisingly – significantly lower than 2017-2019 levels. And while the foot traffic trends improved in 2021 and 2022, Starbucks visits on the day of the PSL’s return still remained below 2018-2019 levels. But this year’s fall menu rollout drove a 25.1% increase in visits on the day of the launch (compared to the 2017 PSL launch visits) – the largest spike in recent years.
During a period when budgets are still tight and consumer confidence is shaky, the option to splurge on an affordable treat and indulge in the comfort and nostalgia of the fall flavors may seem particularly attractive.
Breaking with Tradition
Another factor could have also contributed to this year’s PSL success – the shift to a Thursday launch. Starbucks usually rolls out its fall menu on a Tuesday, but the chain broke with tradition this year and released its autumn-themed treats on a Thursday – and the proximity to the weekend may have contributed to this year’s particularly impressive showing.
Visits on Thursday, August 24th 2023 (the day of the PSL return this year) were 30.5% higher than the average daily visits on the previous ten Thursdays. In contrast, daily visits on Tuesday August 30th 2022 (the day of the PSL return last year) were up just 11.3% compared to the previous ten Tuesdays’ average.
Daily visits to Starbucks tend to peak on Saturdays, and on Saturday August 26th – two days after this year’s PSL launch – visits skyrocketed by 41.1% compared to the previous ten Saturdays’ already high daily average. In 2022, the Saturday following the PSL launch saw visits rise by 29.5% compared to the previous ten Saturdays’ average – a significant boost, but still less than the spike on this year’s first post-PSL Saturday.
Starbucks’ weekend success following this year’s fall menu rollout may explain the company’s decision to move away from its traditional Tuesday launch.
At a time when the retail and dining trends seem to change at whirlwind speed, the consistently strong performance of Starbucks’ fall menu in general and Pumpkin Spice Latte in particular serves as a reminder that there are winning formulas that can withstand the test of time.
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