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Starbucks Japan: Doors Wide Open, Eyes Wide Shut

This posting contains a lot of ramblings, so I'll cut to the chase:

While a large part of eastern Japan is enduring rolling blackouts, due to the downed nuclear reactors at Fukushima and elsewhere, Starbucks in Shizuoka is concerning itself with "bekkoning customers" by blasting heat outside to the passers by on the street.

Read on for more of the background...

If am dissatisfied with a product or service, I usually say nothing, but never buy from that company again. You could call it a "one-strike" policy. When I was younger, I deluded myself with the notion that I was punishing the company with my little boycott. Still, it felt good. Today, instead of anger or vengeance, I feel more of a "why bother?" attitude; like it just isn't important enough to squawk about.

"One-strike" is not really a policy per se, as it really only applies to the case where I have absolutely no vested interest in the product or service. By "vested interest", I mean some notion of emotional attraction, quality of service, goodness of value, convenience and/or practicality. If I have such a vested interest, I follow more of a "three-strike" policy: Strike 1, complain about the problem. Strike 2, complain again but spice it up with a threat of repercussions. Strike 3, make good on that threat.

Perhaps they are not so much "strikes" as "opportunities": Opportunities to fix problems and assure their continued prosperity. Businesses are generally quite happy to listen to criticism and make adjustments to the benefit of their loyal customers. , so it has seldom ever come to strike three. If they want to survive, that is. In a very few cases where I struck a company out, the management was just clueless. And I mean that in a most unflattering way. True to Darwinian principles, most of those companies are no longer in business.

The current situation at Starbucks it's a little more complicated. While there are reasons that keep me going back, there is, nonetheless, a growing list of problems; Some of them serious. Today I am only writing about the most serious one. And, yes, I confess that basically like Starbucks (well, in a love-hate sort of way) but I am not above striking them out. Doing so would be would be a major inconvenience for me, though. They really have done a good job of entrenching themselves into the community and I, for one, am part of that community. And doing so would not get the problem fixed, which has nothing to do with serving the community and everything about social responsibility.

Dressed for winter but the doors are open for businessDressed for winter but the doors are open for business

The problem at this particular Starbucks store is that they run the building heating full blast while keeping the door open to the street. I don't consider myself an environmental activist (although I have been caught hugging the occasional tree) but there are times when we really need to take a stand. I don't like flagrant waste, and I get particularly incensed when I read all about their energy conservation initiatives.

The very least anyone can do is complain to the staff and manager of the store. I have done that so much that by now, it just sounds like ranting. The next level is to complain to the Japanese head office. That, as a matter of speaking, has been done. Twice. The next level of escalation will be corporate headquarters in Seattle. As each step of the way there is a wait period to measure the results. It doesn't take long to see that a three-strike policy is not going to produce the desired outcome, which goes beyond my personal stake in the company. So it's been more like strike one, ball one, ball two, strike two, ball three walk to first, next batter up, strike one, strike two... etc. Right now it's strike one and the end of the ninth. Starbucks needs one base hit to put the game into extra innings. The bases are loaded and there is no sign of a pinch hitter. And I'm priming myself for a phone call to Seattle.

This whole baseball thing is the metaphor of choice when referring to habitual offender laws. It kind of falls apart, though, when you consider that, if the offender where to hit a home run, everybody would win. There would be no losers!

Anyway, quoting from their US website:

"Across the company, energy use accounts for roughly 80 percent of our carbon footprint, making it our greatest opportunity for improvement. In our stores, roasting plants, and offices, conserving energy is one of the most meaningful measures we can take to reduce our environmental impact. Additionally, we can help transform the energy landscape by supporting green power."'

I have no evidence that this kind of energy waste is taking place at other Starbucks locations, although I can tell you that it was not taking place under the former unit managers. Nor do I have any information about Starbucks Japan energy conservation policy, or if they even have one. There is certainly no evidence of it on the Japanese website. The only policy they have is an "Information Security Policy" which I am sure is comforting to the customers.

Conservation is definitely not being enforced here. And I can say with certainty that energy conservation was not what they had in mind when they designed and constructed this particular store branch.

I have complained to the local Starbucks staff no less than six times. My complaints to head office in Tokyo have, up till now, only been via an online questionnaire. This is a random invitation that the cash register prints out with the promise of complimentary beverage. Although they gave me option of viewing and answering the questions in English, there is no guarantee that they actually understood my answers or that they were read at all. There is also a cultural quirk in Japan that results in what I refer to as "soft translation". For instance, "I'm pissed off and not going to put up with this bullshit any more" would soft translate to something like 「ちょっと困ります。」 ( "I'm a bit troubled.") I kid you not! Now I am in possession of a third invitation and I am considering how best to frame my complaint.

Call me facetious but I'm beginning to think it is actually corporate policy to waste energy. If you find that just a bit far fetched, consider that on the occasion of my third complaint, I was told that they need to leave the door open to "bekkon customers" into the shop. Up till that time, they didn't actually make any excuses. They simply Simply complied with my request. But the next day it's always back to the same problem.

After my forth complaint to the branch (about the same I submitted the second questionnaire), the problem stopped. A few of the other problems I mentioned on the questionnaire seem to have been addressed, but in a half-assed sort of way so I'm really not sure of any causal relationship to my questionnaire answers. Perhaps somebody at head office actually had a word with the branch. Or perhaps not. Maybe it was just that the coldest part of the winter was now waning. Friday confirmed my doubt. Late in the afternoon the outside temperature suddenly dropped to an unseasonable low. It got bloody cold outside. I felt a chilly breeze up on the second floor, went down to get a coffee refill and, sure enough, the door was wide open, heater working full out to try to compensate. Sigh! Of course I complained, which they acknowledged with their usual yes in Japanese. But beyond that they did absolutely nothing. So as I paid for my coffee I asked them to send the manager up to see me at my table.

You can imagine that by this point in time, all the staff know what to expect when I get angry. Any they know when I am going to get angry. It took them five minutes, but one of the part-timers came to speak to me. It must have been difficult for him. He informed me that the door had been closed. I said that I nonetheless wanted to talk to the manager, to which he told me that the manager had gone home early because she wasn't feeling well. Okay, no sense taking it out on the part-timers.

I confess that I am not the model of energy conservation, not that I blatantly waste it either. But Starbucks makes representations that they are actively engaged in energy conservation measures in the name of both their "global responsibility" and their "environmental responsibility as a corporate value" while the evidence shows to the contrary. While a large part of eastern Japan is enduring rolling blackouts, due to the downed nuclear reactors at Fukushima and elsewhere, Starbucks in Shizuoka is concerning itself with "bekkoning customers" by blasting heat outside to the passers by on the street. Good call, Starbucks!

Starbucks' mission statement talks about "Understanding of environmental issues and sharing information our partners" and "encouraging all partners to share in our mission." This is where the corporate weasel words creep in. It comes down to the difference in definition between "companied-owned store" and "partner". It's convenient to use first person with statements like "Our new design approach will reinvigorate customer experience in Asia", all the while being careful distance themselves by only use the third person, "our partners", in their mission statement.

But the bottom line has nothing to do with legally crafted wording. What's going on in this Shizuoka branch is completely wrong! It was wrong even before the rolling blackouts.

What is even more infuriating is when I complain about it, they are so bloody accommodating. They pretty much comply by either closing the door or turning off the heat. Only occasionally (like last Friday) have I had to press the issue. But it never fails to dumbfound me: The next day it's back to the same problem. They just don't get it. Or they are mocking me.

So screw the baseball metaphor! It's time to find out where in the Starbucks universe the buck stops. The next step for me is to telephone Starbucks head office in Seattle. If they give me a song and dance about "not having control" of their overseas partners, then I will telephone head office in Tokyo, just to make sure that whoever is "in control" gets a clear message. And if that doesn't get anywhere then I am open to suggestion for the next step.

You can help put pressure on Starbucks by using the "Share/Save" button, below. You can contact them directly via www.starbucks.com/customer-service or in Japan at the following:

Starbucks Coffee Japan, Ltd
2-22-16 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Postal code: 150-0001

Tel: 03-5412-8961 (Mon-Sat 10:00-18:00)

Update (2011-03-29):

The offending Starbucks location is here:

Starbucks Coffee - "Gofukuchou Doori-ten"
2-8-9 Gofuku-Chou, Aoi-ku
Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture

Tel: 054-272-8800
Your rating: None Average: 4.9 (12 votes)


keep fighting the good fight! i like your writing by the way....

Someone has to hold them accountable since they won't do it themselves. It's really a shame to see this kind of behavior.
Go get 'em!

Blatant waste is always a good thing to avoid. That said, I don't feel that anger is a reasonable vehicle for effecting change. In expressing yourself from a place of anger, you distract your listener from the problem and, from their perspective, you become the problem. This is especially so here in Japan.

Ultimately, anger doesn't serve you. A little tongue-in-cheek, perhaps, but, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering”. Being inspired to take steps and initiate change is a great thing. Letting the ego become offended and taking a "heads will roll" stance is, in my opinion, counterproductive. In becoming offended, you're taking it personally, making it subjectively about you and "your problem" rather than remaining objective and addressing the real issue.

Something else that comes to mind is whether you're looking at a Japanese issue from a North American perspective, in much the same way one might criticize the Japanese sense in modern architecture or the use of fonts in advertising. It's tempting to say that it's wrong, but it misses the reality that Japanese perception is a compartmentalized view of individual details. There's little point in taking it personally when somebody with a culturally different perspective can't see the forest for the trees.

Beckoning customers into a shop with open doors is something I see often in Tokyo, so it's certainly not unique to that Starbucks location. Green is a relatively new concept here. Be gentle in encouraging a new perspective so as not to cause people to tenaciously cling to their old one. :)

Point well taken, Trane.

Starbucks is a global organisation with a global reputation. They will fix this problem but, sadly, the decision will probably not come from anywhere inside Japan and it certainly wont come from me alone, which is why I have gone public on this.

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