Whoever planted this photo on social media should be fed endless triple-espressos then strung up by their toes and make the rounds at every Starbucks cafe entrance with a sign hanging from their neck that reads, “This store actually does take cash. Sorry.”
The panic and vitriol this photo sparked on social media was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
A swarm of bots and influential users on all social media platforms plastered this photo across every innocent user’s feed and started a frenzy of hysteria and panic at apocalyptical levels I’d actually never seen before. In 24 hours this photo was shared and re-shared more times than I can even count.
I logged into my Facebook account and every. single. connection. I have on Facebook had shared this image.
To interject any rational dialogue into this sea of delirium was met with scorn, ridicule, a torrent of laugh emojis and everything in between from acidic accusations of being a Bill Gates New World Order Supporter to a neo-liberal apologist.
I was blocked, attacked and scolded simply for focusing on what is really happening with Starbucks and politely suggested that this photo may have been planted in order to distract anyone from taking a closer look at what is actually going on with Starbucks, shielding its true intent.
The photo itself was somehow attached to this idea that it was specifically UK-based Starbucks that were going cashless as of October, 2022. So finally, after an entire day of ignoring the rising rage from users across the world, Starbucks UK made an official statement in response and pinned it to the top of their Twitter page to quell the storm:
User tantrum slightly abated, but not so much that I felt satisfied, I thought back to all the controversy surrounding Starbucks. The first controversy surrounding Starbucks goes all the way back to when I personally noticed the coffee houses first swarmed cities across the United States, say around the 1990’s. They would outperform the small, cool little cafes and coffee shops that gave a city like San Francisco its hip vibe. Those colorful little respites and third spaces would be forced out of business, the image of the crowned siren squeezing the life-force out of neighborhood cafes and corner havens with those claw-like tentacles.
So, no. I am not a fan of Starbucks.
But, I also remember reading something about Starbucks back in early 2018 or end of 2017. It was reported that the coffee giant had a 5 year goal to open up a new store every 15 hours across China. I didn’t think much of it then, but here we are in 2022 with every social media user and their controlling algorithms and bots announcing how they are going to boycott the coffee giant. So because I can count, this news I read in 2018 seemed more prescient now that we are nearing the end of 2022. That’s nearly 5 years for those of you who can’t math.
So, did Starbucks actually make this lofty goal? No one seemed to be talking about it.
No one except Kevin Johnson that is, Starbuck’s former CEO. In February 2022 he disclosed on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” that Starbuck’s China had outperformed all other stores in the past, inferring if not outright admitting, that despite massive closures in the United States, China remained open during the deadliest global pandemic in history. He went on to brag about opening up 700 new stores in the near future and he mentioned a long runway of growth for Starbucks…in China. This was not the information the anchor wanted to hear and was so taken aback by this admission he went into what looked like some sort of caffeine-induced epileptic fit before he could compose himself and continue.
In March 2022, one month after this statement aired, Kevin Johnson announced he was stepping down and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, stepped in, in the interim as a placeholder until… Until when? At the last corporation I worked for, when it was announced the CEO stepping in was just an interim placeholder, we all started looking for new jobs. Within the year, the entire organization had folded.
I wondered if the users who found themselves hyperventilating at the idea of a cashless society, inspired by the trending image above, were even aware that back in 2019 Philadelphia and San Francisco announced they were banning cashless transactions in their retail sector. In fact, New Jersey has also banned cashless transactions and Massachusetts has banned cashless spending as far back as 1978. It feels Philadelphia, and San Francisco especially, may have come out in front and banned cashless spending in their cities because the optics would look really bad for one of our oldest, and newest (and most progressive), cities in our country if they didn’t. After all, according to a Pew Research study, blacks are more likely than whites or Hispanics to rely on cash: 34% use cash for all or almost all of their purchases. If the ban on cash were enforced in the United States, that would leave out a big chunk of the buying public and it wouldn’t simply be optics that hurt the cities but their businesses bottom lines would see a drastic reduction in profit.
When I read this statistic in relation to Starbucks, it jogged my memory back to this impassioned plea from a Black Lives Matter protester in the Summer 2020. Unrecognizable members of the movement, identities shielded under their black masks, dressed in high end fashionable expensive black attire, were defacing Starbuck’s outdoor walls and windows.
Since the defacing of so many Starbucks franchises were taking place in Summer 2020, I wondered if they had actually already closed and were just empty props since it was announced back in 2019 that Starbucks would be closing 150 stores throughout the United States.
But, in keeping in line with what the former CEO had (more than) eluded to in February 2022, current placeholder CEO Michael Schultz announced Starbucks will be continuing to close its doors, despite the success of a Starbucks union movement that seemed to appear overnight , even though Starbucks has apparently been unionized since 1985. Check out the union’s slick, updated modern website. It’s unfortunate the Kansas City and Seattle stores were on the chopping block, despite this alleged success in unionizing.
If the majority of Starbucks will be closing in the United States (and I imagine the UK) and the efforts to roll out Starbucks will be concentrated in China, then why the trending image of the Starbucks going cashless by October 2022? Perhaps the remaining few Starbucks that will be left in malls, the suburbs or occupying those spaces in Target next to the Pizza Hut will be cashless? That doesn’t seem likely.
But, the successful launch of thousands of new Starbucks all across China over the last near five years, which is inching its way to a cashless society, would potentially introduce cashless transactions at certain Starbucks (in China) as early as October 2022 since it looks like that 2018 goal of opening up a Starbucks every 15 hours for 5 years has actually been surpassed, despite a pandemic.
I think what disturbed me most about this photo was the reaction that came out of users because of it. Users screaming to boycott Starbucks because they were going cashless seemed to have no clue the company seems to have already abandoned ship and moved its operations to China. Plus, these same users that were having meltdowns and shaking their fist at the closure of third spaces when shelter in place recommendations were put in place, seemed to be frothing at the mouth to close the largest third space in the nation, completely dismissing the fact that very soon thousands of American baristas will be left out of work. The irony in all of this is that those same users couldn’t cry big enough crocodile tears when it was hinted that Starbucks baristas may have to take a vaccine to keep their job, but now that those same baristas are facing unemployment, you don’t hear a peep. One user tried to excuse this hypocritical behavior by ignoring it altogether and saying the CEO had come out and admitted to going cashless. Perhaps this user is referring to this 2017 article, where then former CEO Howard Schultz speculated that Starbucks may go cashless some day. Most likely this public announcement was a signal to shareholders about the future rollout of cashless Starbucks in China, not the United States.
The most Starbucks did was offer a cashless option in May 2020, just two months after the National Emergency was declared on March 13, 2020. There is an emphasis on cashless but it is not the only way to offer payment. After all, people, OPTICS. Further, Starbucks tested the waters with one cashless store back in 2018. I speculate it was to see how well the technology worked for China’s rollout of Starbucks stores since it was in 2018 that the voracious goal of opening a Starbucks every 15 hours in China was originally announced.
This focus on the cashless aspect to The Starbucks Photo That Enraged User Nation and engulfed every user’s feed, overshadowed the very real and urgent fact that thousands of baristas will be left out of jobs. In the United States.
The messaging around this photo got even worse. Some users announced proudly that they’d had the luxury of avoiding Starbucks for years and had never stepped foot in one in decades, if ever. Well, lucky you. There are some communities that don’t have that luxury. In some communities in the United States, Starbucks is the only third space consumers seeking something outside of home or work can go. They don’t have anyone wealthy enough to open up cute, quirky coffee shops in their immediate area and Starbucks is their only place that offers the space to get away from it all. That’s going away now, too.
Not only did the photo inspire a rampage of seething vitriol from users but it clouded judgment, disguised the truth and encouraged language seeped in emotion rather than practical analysis of the full situation surrounding Starbucks and the larger message behind that situation. Yes, there is no doubt certain businesses are going cashless and the pandemic eased consumers into this idea of cashless transactions.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that a multi billion dollar corporation has abandoned the country that gave it its massive success in the first place and already has all but one foot out the door.
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