Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Starbucks' "perfect" coffee pledge

Well, I was thinking about this one as soon as I saw it on the news. But, it now seems to be getting even better from a sales point of view. For those of you who haven't heard, Starbucks has been concerned with dropping sales for its designer coffees. So, it shut down the stores yesterday for three hours to retrain 135,000 coffee sellers to uphold "the uncompromising standards and quality that have made Starbucks the world's coffee leader." This made me wonder initially if companies like Starbucks that recognize publicly a failing in quality are potentially setting themselves up for claims of breach of warranty of quality on previously sold coffees. After all, folks are spending quite a bit of money on the Starbucks label and arguably have a right to expect the quality to be high. Closing the stores to retrain seems to me to open Starbucks up to claims that it has not been providing the coffee as "warranted."

This initial mind-teaser was not quite enough. Now, apparently Starbucks (reopened after training) has pledged: "Your drink should be perfect, every time. If not, let us know and we'll make it right." What if the drink is not "perfect?" What if the barristas do not "make it right." The Starbucks press release also promises the "best" customer experience. Express warranty under U.C.C. section 2-313 or puffery?

Having just read a new case Hoyte v. Yum! Brands, Inc., 489 F. Supp 2d 24 (D.D.C. 2007), I had to give this some thought. Hoyte involved a physician's claims that KFC's statements that its restaurants served the "best" food was a breach of warranty. The Hoyte court concluded that it was only puffery. Perfect would seem to be different from best, at least to me perfect implied subjective perfection whereas best might be judged on an objective basis for purposes of warranties. The second part of the Starbucks obligation here is a bit easier as they pledge to "make it right." Again, this might be tricky for Starbucks in some cases when faced by the consumer with particularly high expectations. But that seems to be exactly what Starbucks might be bargaining for here. How do you like your coffee?

1 comment:

Peter Friedman said...

How could one possibly judge "subjective perfection"? Any dissatisfaction is a breach of warranty? Oh, come on -- it's just puffing.