The concept of Open Innovation has sent many businesses (at least the smart ones) looking for inventions and new product ideas from an unlikely (but practical) source: consumers. It only makes sense for companies to listen when individuals who purchase their products share innovations they’d like to see. One example of a company that recently took this approach is coffee-juggernaut Starbucks.
Starbucks launched the Web site mystarbucksidea.com this past spring to take advantage of the increasing dialogue between companies and consumers on the Net. The site invites visitors to “share”, “vote”, “discuss” and “see” (of course, as is typical these days, an individual needs to register to do any of these). The “share” area of the site allows individuals to submit their ideas for improving the Starbucks experience – including suggestions about products, customer service and community participation. The “vote” area lets users vote on ideas that have been submitted by other users (current popular ideas include a “buy 10 get 1 free card” and a “free birthday coffee”). The “discuss” area provides a forum for users to converse about ideas, and the “see” section enables people to view responses from Starbucks personnel about different ideas that have been submitted (for example, one employee explained that an idea for coffee ice cubes couldn’t be implemented because only a small percentage of Starbucks stores have freezers).
One visible result of Starbucks new Web site was the nationwide implementation of the Splash Stick (pictured). The Splash Stick invention is a green plastic stirrer that fits perfectly into the mouth of Starbucks coffee lids – preventing coffee from spilling as individuals walk with full cups. Certainly a practical idea, the stick eliminates many of the annoying spills that occur as business people (the bread-and-butter of the Starbucks clientele) walk to the office holding a hot coffee and a briefcase or bag. The invention even features the Starbucks mermaid logo at the top. Though the exact role the My Starbucks Idea site played in the development of this invention remains a bit foggy, it is clear there is some sort of connection – as illustrated by this post from a company representative in the “see” section of mystarbucksidea.com:
"Thanks for your many ideas and comment about providing something for our lids to minimize coffee splashes. As a result of your feedback about spills out of the sip hole, we have been testing splash sticks in limited markets to gauge customer interest (sounds like some of you have seen them). Based on an overwhelmingly positive customer and partner response, we are rolling out splash sticks nationwide this week."
Perhaps involving consumers through the innovative Web site will help Starbucks regain some of the footing it has lost recently. While once a global powerhouse growing by leaps and bounds, Starbucks has been in the news more recently for closing shops than opening them. With $5 drinks the norm, many believe the weakened U.S. economy has curtailed sales since individuals are less likely to spend on extras like coffee. But Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (who replaced fired CEO Jim Donald in January), is looking to strengthen the brand and reassert its dominance of the coffee house industry. Schultz believes enhancing the customer experience through innovation (whether the invention of the Splash Stick or the My Starbucks Idea Web site) will help restore the chain’s reputation. In a recent press release, Schultz stated: “I now recognize that the “splash stick,” is a metaphor for what we do every day to exceed the expectations of our customers. I don’t know another company that would go to such lengths to design the perfect tool to elegantly prevent a customer from spilling coffee.”