The coffee giant’s Web3 loyalty program created buzz in both retail and Web3 circles, but what exactly is the experience like?

Starbucks has long had a large and loyal fan base, from PSL enthusiasts to secret-menu insiders. In November 2022, the company told investors that the Starbucks Rewards loyalty program had grown 16% in the last quarter alone, ballooning to 28.7 million active members in the United States.

But the coffee giant is taking loyalty a step further: In December, it began ushering eager testers into the beta version of a Web3 rewards experience called Starbucks Odyssey, which will integrate NFTs into the brand’s loyalty offerings.

Starbucks, as one of the first big brands to make a decisive move toward leveraging blockchain for loyalty, faces the problem of winning over both Web3 experts and a public whose interest in NFTs is still quite low. And the Odyssey beta, which is serving as a testing ground for the brand, highlights both the challenges and opportunities of being a first mover.

Into the jungle

After linking an existing rewards account to Odyssey, beta users chose an avatar and began working their way through groups of tasks called “Journeys,” which focus on different elements of the Starbucks ethos.

  • Completing tasks in a Journey (which could include virtually touring a Costa Rican coffee farm or passing a quiz about Starbucks history) earns users points and NFTs called “stamps,” which can be bought and sold on the Odyssey marketplace.
  • Points and stamps will eventually unlock exclusive benefits and experiences (though they don’t yet.) Starbucks says these could be virtual espresso martini-making classes, exclusive events, or even trips.

At the end of January, Odyssey had four Journeys for users to complete, focusing on brand history, sustainability efforts, coffee production, and the holiday season, respectively. A simplistic homepage (featuring your chosen avatar as a header) displays open and completed Journeys, acquired stamps, and a link to the stamp marketplace. Clicking on a Journey opens windows containing videos, quizzes, or games.

Not so fast: Despite the gamification of Odyssey, for some users, the experience hasn’t met their expectations:

  • “Everything about it actually was really underwhelming,” beta user Maximillian Piras, a New York-based product designer, told Retail Brew.
  • “It looks like it was built in the early 2000s,” Piras added. “From a design perspective…I thought it was really underbaked. And maybe that’s OK for a beta. But from a company like Starbucks, [you] usually expect something to be a little more polished or immersive.”
  • Phil Ranta, COO of digital talent management agency We Are Verified, likened the beta to online driver’s ed. “It was kind of like, ‘Watch these four commercials and then prove that you watched them, and then all you have to do is buy something expensive and you get a stamp that you can resell,’” Ranta said.

Café culture: Odyssey may not be wowing users with never-before-seen immersive graphics, but the experience goes beyond the site itself. An Odyssey server on chat app Discord is host to a constant buzz between an eclectic mix of users, from Starbucks fans with immense collections of the brand’s City Mugs, to Web3 enthusiasts saying things like, “Never thought I’d be a part of a Starbucks Discord lol.”

Discord members flag bugs or issues with the Odyssey experience, ask each other and the moderators questions about journeys and stamps, and share photos of their Starbucks drinks.

Elsewhere on the server, beta users are planning in-person meetups, and attending virtual events, like a February conversation with former Starbucks executive Adam Brotman.

Peg Samuel, a Web3 strategist at MetaJuice (and an Odyssey beta user), said the discord is the element of Odyssey she’s most excited by. Starbucks has succeeded in bringing coffee lovers and Web3 experts together in one space—not only upping awareness for the brand, but getting real feedback from users, she explained.

  • The relatively small number of beta testers at the moment is another encouraging sign, Samuel said.
  • “Sometimes the word ‘beta’ is just a marketing word for ‘early,’” Samuel told Retail Brew. “But they’re taking their time so they can hear what we have to say.”

First mover questions: Now, as to why Starbucks is pursuing this new line of consumer engagement, the brand says it’s looking for ways to “recognize, surprise, and delight” its rewards members. It also knows Starbucks lovers are getting younger, with more discretionary income (possibly for purchasing NFTs?)

Lin Dai, founder and CEO of Web3 agency OneOf, said the Odyssey program may be part of a broader competitive strategy as brands struggle to win the “quiet race” toward using Web3 to impact their core business.

“Starbucks is one of the most successful, widely adopted, and fastest-growing rewards loyalty programs there is,” said Dai. But he said Odyssey could help them take that even further: “Fundamentally, Web3 technology enables community in a really beautiful way and has this very sticky engagement with consumers. Just about every brand would be interested in that.”