Starbucks and its ubiquitous gift cards have gone too far.
It emerged last week that the coffee chain and last great compact disc store has amassed about $1.2 billion in cash left on customers' gift cards. That sounds like a lot, but to delve into the insanity of this number, consider that Americans now deposit more cash onto Starbucks gift cards than they do into some pretty serious financial institutions. As Grub Street points out, it's twice as much as the amount currently on Discover cards.
All this goes to underscore the point that Starbucks gift cards have become an honest-to-God phenomenon; more than 40 percent of all of Starbucks purchases are now made on gift cards, and that percentage keeps rising, all very much keeping in line with the company's carefully laid plans revolving around Christmas.
It's not just some unfortunate byproduct of convenience culture that gift cards have ruined the idiosyncratic charm of the stocking-stuffer, but official corporate policy. The company pumps millions of gift cards into the market every year for the holidays. On Christmas Eve in 2014, the chain sold roughly 1,700 gift cards per minute, with the corporation estimating that one in seven Americans received a card that year, according to CNN. More than $5 billion was put on the cards between September 2014 and September 2015—and a lot of that dough remains unused.
Anyway, what is Starbucks' end game here? If it turned its stockpiles of customer cash toward, for example, arming one of the many Seattle separatist movements, Starbucks could fundamentally change the makeup of the United States, and we'd be mostly powerless to stop it.
Sip on that for a minute.