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Starbucks adopts “no purchase necessary” policy in wake of crisis

by | May 21, 2018 | Public Relations

Over the weekend, Starbucks took a giant step forward in increasing its reputation as a community-focused brand—and a sizable step away from its more recent reputation as a racial-profiling establishment—by announcing a new policy that permits anyone to sit in its stores or use its restrooms, regardless of whether they have made a purchase.

“We are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome,“ Starbucks announced in a statement. The establishment and its nationwide chains will now “consider anyone who walks into his stores a customer,” whether or not they intend to buy anything.

The policy adds that any customer “behaving in a disruptive manner“ should be handled in accordance with company procedures, which will be updated with new guidance, according to a spokesperson. Although “disruptive behavior” was not defined in the policy, Starbucks employees are instructed to call 911 for any situation that poses a potential danger.

The new policy, combined with the racial-profiling training for all employees coming up next week, is a smart and productive move for the brand’s image, which has been under scrutiny in recent weeks since two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia store. Racist allegations and nationwide boycotting and demonstrating have dogged the brand ever since, and brand reputation experts warned Starbucks after the incident that it had a short window of time to take action.

CEO Kevin Johnson issued apologetic statements immediately, and flew to Philadelphia to meet with the two victims and apologize face-to-face, which were acknowledged as important first steps, but brand experts advised the company to do more. “We live in such a highly charged time that incidents like this can really spark a much bigger controversy and can quickly become a major problem for a brand,” Northwestern University marketing professor Tim Calkins said at the time.

We applaud Starbucks’ new policy, both as a reputation-restoring event and as a community template for other brands to adopt. Founder and chairman Howard Schultz said recently said that while the company doesn’t “want to become a public bathroom… we’re going to make the right decision 100 percent of the time and give people the key.“

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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