Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Starbucks - Round Duetto

That video camera thing at Starbucks so got under my skin that I wrote them an email expressing my dismay. A few days later I get a reply asking me to call customer service at 1-800-23-LATTE. Soon I’m talking to a very nice woman in Seattle explaining how aggravating it is to be recorded buying a $4 dollar cup of coffee.

In fairness to Starbucks let me give you their side of the story. The rep says that Starbucks stores, especially those in “city” locations, experience a lot of theft. Cameras are part of their asset protection program. They’re not worried about employees stealing, they’re worried about customers doing the old smash and grab at the register. The cameras are for deterrent effect. Ok, fair enough.

I mentioned that rumors are floating around that Starbucks uses the cameras to record and analyze customer buying behaviors. The woman said that was nonsense, “Corporate can mine that information from store receipts.” (Since most people pay cash - how the heck do they get that info?) When I mentioned that many companies use video to observe customer traffic, plan product placement, and collect demographic information, the woman seemed a bit flustered. It doesn’t look like Starbucks focus grouped a slick answer to this issue yet. Somebody missed a meeting.

Ok Starbucks says the cameras are only for security. I smell bullshit. Here’s why:

1. The video system was installed by a company called C Video. That’s the company that supplied surveillance cameras at Superbowl XXXVII in Tampa. We all remember the reports on the news how they used facial recognition software to look for terrorists. Well are they doing the same thing at Starbucks? I don’t know. It is a possibility.

2. If it’s for security why doesn’t Starbucks:

a. Post a sign on the door saying the premises are being video monitored? That would deter a lot of thieves. They don’t. I think they don’t want the sign clashing with their cultivated monotonous earth tone bohemian look. Also it would give people the opportunity to decide if they want their privacy compromised before they go in the store. Eeek! A lost sale!

b. Have the camera cover the whole store instead of just the register area. I mean someone could walk off with a $300 dollar espresso machine. I’ve seen fistfights break out over who gets the comfy chairs!

c. Post an article on their website explaining why they’re installing a video system, what it’s for and how it works. I can’t find such an article. Can you?

I don’t think Starbucks is telling the whole story. I’m not surprised. Videotaping employees in the past has caused them some grief. Hey I am all about safety but I am also about full disclosure too.

Write Starbucks and tell ‘em what you think. If you think I'm missing some information or blowing smoke out my ass - you can write me too.

Yeah I know this isn’t a funny post about waiting tables.

Tough shit.

Starbucks videotaping the register to prevent theft is like Fry's using door nazi's to deter theft by employees.

Just another reason to shop local and keep your money IN your community.
i'm sorry, why do you care?
When you write a personal letter do you put it on the back of a postcard for all to see? No. You put it in an envelope. Why? Do you have something to hide?

No my friend. You have what's called a reasonable expectation of privacy. That's why we use envelopes and your ass goes to jail if you read other peoples mail.

Starbucks is so successful insinuating themselves onto every street corner they have become a de facto public space. You don't think so? Look at shopping malls! They have been declared public spaces in some towns.

You should have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such places. Especially when all you’re doing is drinking fucking coffee.

That’s why I care.
I've been working for Starbucks for four years now. Christ, I sound like a tool. Where else can I get 401(k), cheap medical, stock options (and grants, every year), reimbursements for my university courses, and $9.75 hourly plus tips? I digress. There are many cameras in every Starbucks store. They use a rare visible one as a deterrent. I've worked in stores from California to Florida: every store has at least five. There's one on the safe, one on each register, another on the computer in the back room to monitor the actions of the manager (since the computer is the only place that money or employee hours and information can be altered within the store), one in the cafe by the door, and another at the speaker of the drive-through, if applicable. Informing customers outright that a video-surveillance system is in place intrudes too much. Video cameras are for convenience stores, not coffee shops. Starbucks does everything it can to make a corporate-owned store palatable. The demographic(s) served by the corporation are often very sensitive about anything that would subject them to emotional discomfort. Blah, life goes on. So I'm just saying. Starbucks is a mega-corporation and God knows I hate two-thirds of the things that entity does. But. I work hard. And it's good to know that the one time a store I worked at -or any of them, as far as I know- was robbed, three of the cameras caught his image, one of which was usable by the police. The guy had a gun. He stole all of the money in the store, even our tips. Besides. Our POS systems all have high-speed internet connections, allowing every transaction processed each day sent to the computers at corporate. So even if you pay by cash, the information right down to how many splenda you want in your triple tall sugar-free vanilla nonfat no foam caramel macchiato is recorded.
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