Retail

Happy National Coffee Day: Let’s All Celebrate Contextual Commerce

People the world over complain about American coffee. One can find entire blogs in almost every language dedicated to how to survive the typically weak, bitter, overpriced or over-sweetened swill Americans call coffee.

But Americans, true to American form, are completely uninterested in those opinions. As a nation of awake-earliers, up-very-laters, last-minute-crammers and entrepreneurs who simply never sleep at all, in this country, we like our coffee.

In fact, by the numbers, we love our coffee.

Among American adults, 83 percent identify themselves as at least “sporadic” coffee drinkers. The average American drinks approximately two cups of coffee per day, while the average self-described coffee drinker imbibes closer to four cups a day to satisfy his or her coffee addiction. Men and women drink nearly identical amounts of coffee, though women are statistically more likely than men to make it at home than buy it at coffee shops. As such, they tend to spend slightly less on coffee consumption annually than men. In addition, people of all races drink coffee in nearly equal measures.

And, as Americans, we show our love with our spend. Americans consume approximately 12 billion pounds of coffee per year and spend approximately $1,100 per U.S. adult annually on coffee — that’s a little less than $160 billion total. Coffee shop Starbucks’ sales revenue in 2016 was $21 billion, Dunkin’ Donuts saw $10.8 billion and Keurig boasted $4.5 billion.

Now, granted, all of those brands sell items other than coffee, but a lot of those billions of dollars were made one cuppa joe — with some fancy add-ons, of course — at a time. And, with that nearly universal affection for the caffeinated drink that makes the world go round, it is unsurprising that we’ve devoted one day — and, in some cases, an entire weekend — to the celebration of coffee.

Welcome To National (Free) Coffee Day

If you happened to have missed it, National Coffee Day was technically yesterday, Friday (Oct. 29). But, if you are feeling sad you missed it, fear not — various purveyors of coffee, tea and sanity are celebrating throughout the weekend. So, with a sharp eye, you might still be able to get your free cup from a favorite coffee shop.

Krispy Kreme, for example, with its typical “more is more” philosophy, will be handing out free coffee all weekend. Not to be outdone, Tim Horton’s has declared this National Coffee Week and will be topping customers off, free of charge, through Oct. 6.

The purists stuck to the day itself, handing out free coffee for all who came looking, and Cinnabon, Wawa and 7Eleven were all favorites on this list. McDonald’s offered a discount on its fancy drinks, and Dunkin’ Donuts offered buy one, get one free.

Starbucks went a different route. Everything cost the same amount, but it was much harder to know what that cost was if you hadn’t already memorized it. That’s because the brand replaced its menu board for the day with signs detailing the company’s ethical sourcing and reminded customers it supports farmers by purchasing coffee.

We’re going to guess Starbucks probably didn’t bring in the creative team that came up with the Unicorn Frappuccino when designing its celebration.

If you are feeling sad you missed out, though, and don’t live within range of a merchant keeping the spirit of the holiday alive for the whole weekend, grieve not. National Taco day is next week (Oct. 4), then there’s National Nacho Day (Nov. 6), National Cheese Sandwich Day (Apr. 12), National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day (May 15) and National Ice Cream Month, which is celebrated nationally on the third Sunday of July.

And, yes, there will be giveaways for all those food-themed national holidays.

But Why?

We recommend not looking a gift taco/nacho/grilled cheese sandwich/ice cream cone in the mouth. In fact, we strongly recommend you accept any and all of them.

Still, these holidays have evolved as retail holidays. National [Insert Food Item Here] Day is not a time we generally make sandwiches or snacks for our neighbors and deliver them in the spirit of fellowship. Instead, we go to a store, presumably one that specializes in whatever-the-holiday, and pick up free food. And, at a quick glance, it may seem strange that retailers have built up a mass of holidays designed entirely for merchandise giveaways.

But, at second glance, one realizes days like National Coffee Day could more accurately be called “National Clever Way to Distribute a $2.00 Gift Card Day.”

Consumers go for the free coffee at, say, Krispy Kreme. But, standing in-store surrounded by the smell of fresh donuts coming off the line, dripping with warm glaze, and, well, good luck leaving with just that cup of coffee in-hand. Dunkin’ Donuts is happy to give away that second cup for free, particularly for the $4 or $5 breakfast sandwiches and $10 donuts a consumer might buy with it.

The magic of the National Coffee Day holiday works similarly to the statistically demonstrable magic of a gift card. The consumer goes in with X amount of value loaded on that card and, most of the time, he or she leaves having spent more than the value of said card. The “freebie” gets a customer in the door, then the retailer charms him or her with all the other wonderful things, too.

But National [Insert Food Item Here] Days have a magic all their own. They aren’t just reasons for customers to go to the store, but are also reasons for customers to talk about going to the store on social media.

Very few people buy something on a gift card, then Instagram, tweet or Facebook it with the hashtag #GiftCarding #Yolo. However, a quick scan of the social media accounts of any of those establishments will turn up hundreds of thousands of pictures of hot, steaming mugs, tumblers and paper cups of coffee — many of which are dutifully tagged #NationalCoffeeDay and #WhereEverTheyJustGaveMeFreeCoffee.

Gift cards and “freebies” get customers into the store and prompt them to spend more. Specialized retail holidays, on the other hand, get customers to do the same thing, then encourage them to remind all their friends and family members to do the same. It’s not a bad return on investment, especially since overhead costs involved in a cup of coffee range from $0.10 to $1.00, depending on how fancily it is made.

So, enjoy your free coffee this morning if you can find it. We look forward to next week’s national celebration of nachos and the contributions they have made to all of our lives. And, of course, here in New England, to buying our cuppa joe at Dunkin’ for $0.87 when the Pats win on Sunday.

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