SINCE 1988

Starbucks’ Red Cup Day Drove Less Than Half the Amount of Added Traffic as Last Year

Starbucks Red Cup Day 2023

Is enthusiasm for Starbucks’ Red Cup Day promotion waning? According to recently released traffic data from Placer.AI, although the Seattle-based coffee chain got a 31.7% foot traffic boost on Thurs. Nov. 16 — the day of the annual promotional giveaway — it was a much softer bump than last year’s 81%. In fact, according to Placer.AI data, this year’s Red Cup Day visit increase was less than half the amount of added traffic for the same promotion in 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Although that might sound like a huge drop in Starbucks’ holiday promotional success, it actually could be indicative of overall traffic trends for the brand. After all, the actual launch of the Starbucks holiday menu on Nov. 2nd drove 13% more weekly visits than a baseline summer week, even if the Red Cup Day traffic was more lackluster. Similarly, the week of the launch of the Pumpkin Spice Latte and fall menu saw a 14% traffic bump over a baseline week, indicating sustained consumer interest in seasonal LTOs.

“The softer YoY comparison [between Red Cup Days] may be more indicative of last year’s holiday menu success rather than a weakened demand this year,” Place.AI said in the report on Starbucks holiday traffic. “And Starbucks’ strong YoY performance during the weeks preceding the holiday menu launch means that the dip in YoY visits during the first two full weeks of November are likely not reflective of the company’s upcoming holiday season performance.”

It’s true that Starbucks traffic during the Red Cup Day promotion and holiday menu launch last year was boosted higher than typical years. In 2022, Starbucks did not introduce any new holiday beverages, but did introduce a few new seasonal snacks and food items. However, 2022 saw six seasonal beverages in all stores, while this year only had five, including the new Iced Gingerbread Oatmilk Chai (the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha and Irish Cream Cold Brew did not make the cut for 2023).

The other variable in this traffic equation was the union protests that were planned and executed on Red Cup Day this year, that definitely could have affected foot traffic as so many Starbucks union members planned walkouts. This year, using the hashtag #RedCupRebellion, the union wanted to encourage barista walkouts in order to call attention to lack of employee resources on Red Cup Day, as well as other labor issues in general.

Is the weaker Red Cup Day performance just a fluke or indicative or larger consumer trends — either away from the promotional giveaway, or away from Starbucks in light of union-related media criticism? Taking into account the overall stronger traffic around the fall menu season, it’s quite possible that Starbucks will continue to have a boosted holiday season — one of the company’s most successful times of the year, but only time will tell.


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