Starbucks saw strong growth in its loyalty program and mobile transactions over its second fiscal quarter of 2018, the company announced ahead of its earnings call.
The coffee chain added 1.6 million new U.S. members to its Starbucks rewards program. In addition, Starbucks discovered that members of Starbucks rewards were buying more: Over the quarter, their spend increased to 39 percent of U.S. company-operated sales.
Beyond its loyalty program, Starbucks noted that customers were taking advantage of opportunities to skip the counter: Mobile Order & Pay represented 12 percent of U.S. company-operated transactions during the quarter.
Overall, Starbucks also saw growth in comparable store sales in both the U.S. and abroad. Global comparable store sales rose by 2 percent, essentially in line with analysts’ estimates of 1.9 percent. Americas and U.S. comp store sales also increased 2 percent, while China comp store sales rose at the slightly higher rate of 4 percent.
In terms of financials, Starbucks reported better-than-expected sales: The coffee chain beat revenue estimates by $100 million, with revenues of $6 billion, and met analysts’ earnings estimates at $0.53 per share. Starbucks President and CEO Kevin Johnson said the company reported solid results for the quarter.
“Starbucks Q2 of fiscal 2018 represented another quarter of record financial results, highlighted by accelerating momentum across our Americas business — particularly in the U.S. — continued strong performance in China and our strongest comp growth in Japan in five quarters,” Johnson said in a press release.
One of Starbucks’ key priorities is to expand its digital interactions with customers.
“Establishing digital relationships with many more customers represents a significant growth opportunity, as we have proven that a direct communications channel combined with personalization enhances the customer experience and drives customer engagement,” Johnson said during the call.
To expand its digital relationships, Starbucks is implementing new ways to attract digitally registered customers beyond the rewards program. For example, the coffee chain is offering its Mobile Order & Pay to all customers and leveraging Wi-Fi sign-ins at its brick-and-mortar stores. In addition, Starbucks is reinventing Frappuccino Happy Hour through the use of single-use digital coupons. Johnson said these efforts are already yielding results and will generate a few million more registered users by the year’s end.
This difference is driving a shift in Starbucks’ marketing strategy. In the past, Starbucks has offered a drumbeat of promotional offers that have not necessarily led to sustained sales. For example, the company offered a Frappuccino Happy Hour to all of its customers over a short period of time. But that strategy didn’t work: The deal didn’t improve sales of other drinks in 2017. The promotion saw “a lower-than-expected lift in non-discounted Frappuccino beverages following Happy Hour,” Chief Financial Officer Scott Maw explained on a July 2017 conference call, according to Reuters.
As a result, the company is taking a new approach. Starbucks’ updated program will sign customers up for direct digital relationships and promote a variety of beverages throughout the year. In essence, the goal behind the shift is to transition from a short-term, one-and-done approach for promotions to more sustained marketing efforts. Through this strategy, the company is expanding its digital reach beyond its loyal rewards members to connect with as many non-rewards customers as possible. Starbucks can now personalize its communications to customers while also gaining direct access to them.
Starbucks already has 3,200 company-operated stores in 141 cities across Mainland China, but the coffee chain anticipates a larger potential market there.
“The opportunities for Starbucks in China, which are significant, are growing along with the size and scale of our business,” Johnson said on the call.
To that end, the company is holding a China Investor Tour. Of course, the company is no stranger to China: It’s been in the Chinese market for 20 years. According to Johnson, the middle-class population in China stands around 600 million people, which could provide an expanded market for the company.
“No Western company or brand is better positioned to benefit from the rapidly expanding Chinese middle class [than Starbucks],” Johnson said.