Today, Starbucks officially introduces Starbucks Odyssey, launching later this year — the cafe chain’s first foray into building with web3 technology. The new experience combines the company’s successful Starbucks Rewards loyalty program with an NFT platform, allowing its customers to both earn and purchase digital assets that unlock exclusive experiences and rewards.
The company had previously teased its web3 plans to investors, saying he believes this new experience will build on the current Starbucks Rewards model, where customers today earn “stars” that can be exchanged for perks like free drinks. He envisions Starbucks Odyssey as a way for the most loyal customers to earn a wider array of rewards while building community.
To develop the project, Starbucks got involved Adam Brotman, the architect of the Mobile Order & Pay system and the Starbucks app, to help serve as a dedicated advisor. Now co-founder of Forum3loyalty startup web3, Brotman’s team worked on Starbucks Odyssey alongside the Seattle coffee chain’s own marketing, loyalty and technology teams.
Although Starbucks has been exploring blockchain technology for several years, it has only been involved in this particular project for about six months, Starbucks CMO Brady Brewer told TechCrunch. He says the company wanted to invest in this area, but not as a side project, as many companies do. Rather, it wanted to find a way to use technology to improve its business and expand its existing loyalty program.
It chose to make NFT the loopholes that allow access to this digital community, but deliberately obscure the nature of the technology behind the experience to attract more users — including non-technical people — to the web3 platform.
“It happens to be built on blockchain and web3 technologies, but the customer – frankly – may not even know that what they’re doing is interacting with blockchain technology. It’s just the enabler,” explains Brewer.
To opt-in to the Starbucks Odyssey experience, Starbucks Rewards members will log into the web app using their existing loyalty program credentials.
Once there, they’ll be able to engage in a variety of activities that Starbucks has dubbed “journeys” — such as playing interactive games or taking on challenges designed to deepen their knowledge of the Starbucks brand or coffee in general. While completing these journeys, members can acquire early digital collectibles in the form of NFTs (Non-fungible Tokens). However, Starbucks Odyssey ditches the tech jargon and instead calls these NFT collectibles “travel tokens.”
Additionally, a limited edition set of NFTs will be available for purchase on the Starbucks Odyessy web app, which also works on mobile devices. Although hosted on the Polygon blockchain, these NFTs will be purchased using a credit or debit card — no crypto wallet required. The company believes this will make it easier for users to engage with the web3 experience by lowering the barrier to entry. It also won’t complicate consumer transactions with things like “gas fees,” preferring to offer a bundled price.
The company isn’t yet ready to share how much its NFTs will cost or how many will be available at launch, saying those are decisions that are still being ironed out.
However, different “stamps” (NFTs) will include a point value based on their rarity and can be bought or sold by Starbucks Odyessy members on the market, with ownership secured on the blockchain. The artwork on the NFT is co-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 causes chosen by Starbucks employees and customers.
By collecting the stamps, members will earn points that can unlock exclusive benefits.
These benefits go beyond what you can earn with a traditional Starbucks Rewards account and its “stars.” While today members can earn things like free coffee, free food, or select merchandise, points earned on Starbucks Odyessy will convert to experiences and other benefits.
On the low end, it could be a virtual espresso martini-making class or access to unique merchandise and artist collaborations. As you earn more points, you can earn invitations to special events hosted at Starbucks Reserve Roasteries, or even win a trip to Starbucks Hacienda Alsacia coffee farm in Costa Rica. The biggest bonuses are expected to be reserved for those who buy NFTs, although smaller versions may be offered to those who earn their way up.
For example, a paid NFT may offer the full travel and farm tour package, while an earned NFT may only offer the tour with flights and hotels left to the user. However, the company has not taken any official decisions on this matter.
But what the company can say is that it wants to deeply integrate the program with its existing loyalty rewards beyond simply using the same user account credentials for both programs.
Brewer says Starbucks is already envisioning how some of the NFT-earning activities will be linked to actual Starbucks purchases, for example.
In Odyssey, users earn NFTs by completing challenges, which can also include a real-world activity like “try three things from the espresso menu.” This will require the user to show their barcode at checkout – as they would if they were earning stars – in order for their transaction to count towards the Starbuck Odyssey Challenge. The company is still determining what mix of games, challenges and quests it will include at launch.
“But we will have such an experience do we connect directly to customer behavior in our stores,” Brewer emphasizes. Most importantly, the company wants to make NFT earning something anyone can do — not just those with the money to invest in digital collectibles, as is often the case with current NFT communities that overvalue the average consumer .
“There will be many ways for people to earn [rewards] without having to spend a lot of money,” says Brewer. “We want to make this super easy and affordable. There will be plenty of daily experiences that customers can earn like virtual classes or access to limited edition merchandise, for example. “The pool of experiences will be quite extensive and very accessible,” he adds.
Starbucks says it explored all different blockchains for the project, but settled on the “proof-of-stake” blockchain technology built by Polygon for the effort because it uses less energy than first-generation “proof-of-work” blockchains. which is more in line with the goals of the conversation.
The idea of entering the world of web3 makes sense for a company known for taking advantage of emerging technologies and making them more accessible and accessible to consumers. Over the years, Starbucks has introduced Wi-Fi in its stores to encourage customers to spend more time during visits. He also pushed the idea of mobile wallets long before Apple Pay became ubiquitous. And it made mobile ordering the norm long before the Covid pandemic, when other restaurant chains picked it up.
But one criticism leveled at many traditional firms when they enter the web3 market is that they approach it as a marketing gimmick rather than a genuine venture. Starbucks, of course, claims that’s the case – but only time will tell how serious their interest might be.
“We’re optimistic about the future of these technologies enabling experiences that weren’t possible before,” says Brewer. The intention is to be flexible and move with customers as the web3 market changes, he explains. “It’s really important to look at it long-term,” he continues. “But given that we’re including it in our industry-leading scale rewards program – we’re committed,” he says.
The company says its web3 platform will open its waiting list (waitlist.starbucks.com) on September 12 and will launch later in the year. It will eliminate the waiting list and open the platform more widely next year.