I still get emails from Starbucks almost every day. It’s my own fault: I developed an obsession with their gold star system during my last semester in college. I downloaded the app. Scrounged up old gift-cards. Calculated how much money I’d save. Rushed to and fro between classes. I’d get as many gold stars as possible. Their coffee may be basic, but racking up points is a lifestyle.
In Charleston where I attended school, there are independent coffee shops everywhere: small businesses with French presses showcasing groomed beards and more Apple products than a Genius Bar. A personal favorite, Black Tap, runs a weekly CSA with the local flower shop. Once, Aziz Ansari stopped in while I was editing poems for class. He ordered a lavender cortada and treated the barista like an old friend.
These local spots care about product sourcing, composting, and the overall experience that comes with drinking caffeinated beverages. They host community events. They remember your name. It’s like Cheers without the beers.
But during my gold star months, humanity in porcelain mugs stopped mattering. Fair trade? Later dude. House-made syrup? Nah, chemicals are fine. Freshly baked gluten free muffins? No thanks. I’ll grab a Cake Pop.
I had an incentive for this: “Rewards,” they said. “A free drink on your birthday,” they said. I did it quickly — hoarded the stars. Got the double-shot gratis. Scored two-for-one Frappuccino deals. I used my cellphone to pay a company that has enough money to design their own barcode-scanning payment method. I fell into that statistic.
Then suddenly, I fell out. “To hell with the stars,” I declared. It was liberating. I realized there were some benefits, yes, but mostly, just a lot of emails. I’m fine with Starbucks. I don’t judge their customers. When Starbucks is offered to me, I’m elated. But it’s not my go-to, per se, not when the shop across the street practically sings to each bean.
But does my brief star-studded blindness matter? Not really. But it caused me to be mindful of similar situations — flash sales, convincing advertisements, suspiciously cheap miracle-products — that make us consumers reconsider our motives, what we actually want in the first place. Why is it so hard to just say no to things we don’t really need? Potato chips. Unreliable friends. A mutant mermaid with two tails who has the monopoly on convenient iced coffee.
I broke up with Starbucks right before the relationship got too toxic. We both knew we were using each other, but I like to think we started out with pure intentions. They say you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take. What they don’t tell you is that you also receive 100% of the emails you don’t unsubscribe from.