Starbucks today officially unveiled Starbucks Odyssey, launching later this year – the coffee chain’s first attempt at building with Web3 technology. The new experience combines the company’s successful Starbucks Rewards loyalty program with an NFT platform that enables its customers to earn and purchase digital assets that unlock exclusive experiences and rewards.
The company previously teased investors about its web3 plans, saying it believes this new experience would build on the current Starbucks Rewards model, where customers today earn “stars” that can be exchanged for perks like free drinks. It sees Starbucks Odyssey as a way for its most loyal customers to earn a wider range of rewards while building community.
To develop the project, Starbucks brought in Adam Brotman, the architect of its Mobile Order & Pay system and Starbucks app, as a special consultant. As co-founder of Forum3, a Web3 loyalty startup, Brotman’s team worked alongside the Seattle coffee chain’s own marketing, loyalty and technology teams on Starbucks Odyssey.
While Starbucks has been exploring blockchain technologies for a number of years, it has only been involved in this particular project for about six months, Starbucks CMO Brady Brewer told TechCrunch. He says the company wants to invest in the space, but not as a “stunt” side project like many companies do. Rather, it wanted to find a way to use the technology to improve its business and expand its existing loyalty program.
It has chosen to make NFTs the passports that provide access to this digital community, but it is intentionally obscuring the nature of the technology underlying the experience in order to attract more consumers — including non-technical people — to the web3 platform to win.
“It happens to be built on blockchain and Web3 technologies, but the customer — to be honest — may not even know they are interacting with blockchain technology. It’s just the enabler,” explains Brewer.
To participate in Starbucks Odyssey, Starbucks Rewards members log into the web app using their existing loyalty program credentials.
Once there, they can participate in various activities Starbucks calls “journeys” – like playing interactive games or accepting challenges aimed at deepening their knowledge of the Starbucks brand or coffee in general. As they complete these journeys, members can collect early digital collectibles in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens). However, Starbucks Odyssey eschews the tech jargon and instead calls these NFT collectibles “travel tokens.”
Additionally, a number of limited edition NFTs will be available for purchase on the Starbucks Odyessy web app, which also works on mobile devices. Although these NFTs are hosted on the Polygon blockchain, they are purchased using a credit or debit card — no crypto wallet is required. The company believes this will make it easier for consumers to get started with the web3 experience by lowering the barrier to entry. It also won’t complicate transactions with things like “gas fees” for consumers who prefer to offer a bundled price.
The company isn’t ready to share what its NFTs will cost or how many will be available at launch, as these are decisions that are yet to be ironed out.
However, the various “stamps” (NFTs) carry a point value based on their rarity and can be bought or sold among Starbucks Odyessy members on the marketplace, with ownership secured on the blockchain. The artwork at the NFTs is jointly created by Starbucks and outside artists, and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the limited-edition collectibles will be donated to support projects chosen by Starbucks employees and customers.
By collecting the stamps, members earn points that can unlock exclusive benefits.
These perks go beyond what you can earn with a traditional Starbucks Rewards account and its “stars.” While members can now earn things like free coffee, free food, or select merchandise, points earned at Starbucks Odyessy are converted into experiences and other benefits.
At the low end, that could be a virtual espresso martini making class or access to unique merchandise and artist collaborations. As you earn more points, you may receive invitations to special events hosted at Starbucks Reserve Roasteries or even earn a trip to Starbucks Hacienda Alsacia Coffee Farm in Costa Rica. It’s expected that the very biggest perks will be reserved for those who buy NFTs, although smaller versions may be offered for those who earn their way to the top.
For example, a paid NFT might offer the full travel package and farm tour, while an earned NFT might offer the tour alone, leaving flights and hotels up to the user. However, Starbucks has not made any formal decisions on this front.
What the company can say, however, is that it wants to deeply integrate the program with its existing loyalty rewards, rather than simply using the same user account credentials for both programs.
According to Brewer, Starbucks already envisions connecting some of the activities that earn NFTs to real-world purchases at Starbucks, for example.
In Odyssey, users earn NFTs by completing challenges, which may also involve a real-world activity such as “Try three things from the espresso menu.” This would require the user to show their barcode at checkout – as they would when earning stars – for their transaction to be counted towards the Starbuck Odyssey challenge. The company is still finalizing what mix of games, challenges, and quests it will include at launch.
“But we’ll see that again do direct relation to customer behavior in our branches,” emphasizes Brewer. Most importantly, the company wants to make acquiring NFTs something anyone can do — not just those with money to squander digital collectibles, as is often the case with current NFT communities that feed the average overprice users.
“There will be many opportunities for people to make money [rewards] without having to spend a lot of money,” says Brewer. “We want to make this super easy and accessible. There will be many day-to-day experiences for customers to enjoy, such as virtual classes or access to limited-edition merchandise. “The range of experiences will be quite wide and very accessible,” he adds.
Starbucks says it explored all the different blockchains for the project, but landed on the “proof-of-stake” blockchain technology developed by Polygon for this effort because it uses less energy than “proof-of-stake” Work” blockchains more in line with his conversational goals.
The idea of entering the world of Web3 makes sense for a company known for taking new technologies and making them more accessible and easily accessible for consumers. In recent years, Starbucks has introduced Wi-Fi in its stores to encourage customers to spend more time during visits. It also fueled the idea of mobile wallets long before Apple Pay became ubiquitous. And it made mobile ordering the norm well before the COVID pandemic, when other restaurant chains picked it up.
But one criticism leveled at many traditional companies when they enter the Web3 market is that they approach it as a marketing gimmick, not an actual endeavor. Starbucks, of course, argues that’s not the case here — but only time will tell how serious its interest could be.
“We’re optimistic about the future of these technologies that enable experiences that weren’t possible before,” says Brewer. The intent is to be flexible and move with customers as the Web3 market changes, he explains. “It’s really important that we take a long-term view,” he continues. “But given the fact that we’re building it into our industry-leading massive rewards program, we’re determined,” he says.
The company says its web3 platform will open its waitlist (waitlist.starbucks.com) on September 12 and launch later in the year. It will remove the waiting list and open up the platform more broadly sometime next year.