Starbucks’ customer appreciation day may backfire

August 9, 2013

For most companies, the prospect of thousands of customers thronging its stores to celebrate its corporate policies would be regarded as ambrosia from the retail gods. But it’s hard to imagine that Starbucks sees this week’s spontaneous “Customer Appreciation Day” by gun-toting Second Amendment absolutists as quite such a blessing.

The Seattle-based caffeine chain has been the target of gun safety advocates for some time over its refusal to adopt a corporate policy that would ban patrons from carrying loaded guns into its stores. That’s why gun rights groups exhorted their supporters to holster up and pop into their local Starbucks on Friday to order frappuccinos.

Thus far, everyone seems to be acting within their obvious constitutional rights. Starbucks is following applicable state gun laws — including “open carry” regulations – which permit customers to bring weapons into stores. Opponents of the idea of sipping lattes next to folks carrying Bushmaster AR-15′s also have the right to voice their dissent.

Still, the economic downside for Starbucks may be much greater than the company has let on. The current furor could explode into a nationwide call for a boycott — something that many gun control organizations are now publicly embracing, particularly following an insensitive, though legal, call by one gun rights group for its members to parade their weapons at the Starbucks in Newtown, Connecticut – where 20 children and six educators were massacred in an elementary school last December by a gunman wielding an assault weapon with high-capacity magazines.

The truth is, Starbucks and its shareholders may have more to lose than gain by resisting the adoption of a policy like the one it has for its own corporate headquarters that asks gun owners to check them at the door.

Corporate embargoes are a common business risk. The classic modern example was a consumer movement against Nike products in the late 1990s over the sweatshop conditions at its suppliers’ factories. Fearing this would damage its reputation and brand — and thereby the bottom line — Nike helped create the Fair Labor Association to help protect workers’ rights. Similar fears guided Apple’s decision two years ago to allow the FLA to conduct special audits of its suppliers’ factories in China.

Northwestern University Professor Brayden G. King studied boycotts like the one that prompted Nike’s change of policy. In a 2011 paper on the subject he concluded that the “increasing importance of reputation and positive media coverage appears to have changed the mechanism of a boycott’s greatest influence, thus making it an attractive tactic.” Social media, he noted, may “further enable movement disruption.”

So how does this apply to Starbucks? It’s not clear what a shift in its policy, towards asking customers to leave their weapons behind, would do to its business. We can, however, take a guess by analyzing its customer base.

Starbucks declined to detail how many of its stores are located in rural communities as compared to urban and suburban ones, where national polls show Americans to be more favorably disposed to increased regulation of firearms.

However, according to the company’s website, Starbucks has a far larger share of its stores in those states that have recently passed more stringent firearm laws than it does in states that have taken the opposite tack. That stands to reason given population differences. But the numbers illustrate the potential harm a nationwide boycott might inflict.

Last year, Starbucks had 504 company-operated and licensed stores in New Jersey — whose Republican Governor Chris Christie signed into law a raft of gun reforms this week — Maryland and Connecticut, both of which also strengthened firearms rules since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

By contrast, Starbucks listed 100 stores in Montana, Utah and Wyoming, where some legislators have pushed for rules that would encumber the ability of the federal government and police to enforce certain restrictions on gun owners.

The point is, Starbucks appears to make more of its money from states where certain restrictions on guns — which do not infringe upon the Supreme Court’s reading of the Second Amendment of the Constitution — are favored by a majority of its customers.

In the end, whatever Chief Executive Howard Schultz decides to do about guns, it will almost certainly be a matter of business, not politics.

Rob Cox is global editor of Reuters Breakingviews, and a founder of Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit in Newtown, Connecticut dedicated to reducing gun violence through common sense solutions. Reporting by Grace Dai.

PHOTO: Coffee mugs are pictured on display at a Starbucks coffee store in Pasadena, California July 25, 2013.   REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

12 comments

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Ironically, “Second Amendment absolutists” gathering place is probably safest place in town, esp. if there’s no alcohol served.
Unless of course some “hardcore liberal” freaks decide to “punish” ‘em not with boycotte but with bombs or something like that…

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive

starbucks is where you buy coffee, not where you bring a gun

Posted by coffeelover2013 | Report as abusive

So, the implication is that this could not possibly help Starbucks as a business? Is that because the writer of this article thinks all personal rights activists, who do not exclude the Second (and perhaps Fourth?) Amendments, are hillbilly redneck “creepy cracker” types living in the country? No? It certainly sounds like it.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

Ahh, yes Starbucks DOES stand to loss business if they are perceived to be supporting 2nd Amendment Zealots. What about all the other rights? Don’t you like them too? Or is it just this one that melts your butter?

Posted by Notagunnut | Report as abusive

A ban would be no problem at all – excepting the predictable small-minded, small number, idjit who accepts NRA premises as religious writ.

New Mexico has allowed Open Carry for decades – and allowed individual retailers to ban the presence of guns. They put up a sign and that’s the end of the discussion.

If your feelings are hurt – well, that qualifies you publicly as a member of the idjit breed. You’re probably relying on Walmart for your coffee, anyway.

Posted by Eideard | Report as abusive

Hmmm I don’t think this article is disparaging of “hillbilly redneck ‘creepy cracker’ types” at all… it’s a simple cost/benefit analysis. There are more starbucks stores in states that are more supportive of gun regulations. That is a numerically provable fact, not in any way a cultural valuation.

Posted by leo777 | Report as abusive

Just because a state has more restrictive firearm regs, does not mean the citizens of that state are very supportive of those regs, despite what the polls may indicate. I think the whole idea of a customer support day of this nature is kind of goofy in the first place. But I do appreciate the fact that Starbucks and other major retailers recognize the right of their customers to legally carry firearms. The outlaws will carry regardless of the laws of any state or the wishes of the private establishment.

Those who are anti-gunners will always be critical of those who carry and, I think, will never understand the concepts of freedom to make the choice to defend yourself and those you love without fear of reprisal from an overbearing and controlling government. They just can’t see the forest for the trees problem and tend to ignore the fact that US crime rates have been dropping for twenty years, in spite of wide spread concealed carry legislation and a dramatic increase of those of us who legally carry. Those facts fly in the face of their arguments, so they want to ignore them.

Posted by AuAgExpl | Report as abusive

If a company forbids access by race, we are outraged. So the thought by the author is that those well within their rights to carry a firearm are not allowed this access? This article exposes two things plainly: The hypocrisy of liberals cherry picking favorite “rights”, and that Starbucks knows that less firearms do not deter crime, but encourage it.

Posted by Pwrtothesheeple | Report as abusive

more idiots who think that they share the majority opinion and when in reality they share a small minority view of things cant wait for this to blow up in there faces.

Posted by happyfairyworld | Report as abusive

This is what fear looks like. Writers like this often seem hypocritical when it comes to the government; they’ll oppose expanding government in one direction while wholeheartedly supporting government’s expansion if it fits into their preconceived view of social politics.
Gun owners == fringe right in the authors mind, and reflects the delusional thinking of another ‘urban author.’

Posted by Reuter_Writer | Report as abusive

Another business problem with allowing guns: civil lawsuits from anyone shot in stores allowing guns on their premises.
In the light of multiple episodes of unintentional shootings by gun carriers it may be argued that Starbuck’s assumed some responsibility by providing a sanctioned area for guns, ignoring the safety of their customers.

Posted by Dr.MSB | Report as abusive

every time some clown tries a boycott or calls for one it backfires. People vote with their wallets and will of the majority is evident all around you.

Posted by JHD2 | Report as abusive