Financing

Starbucks' U.S. sales apparently took a big hit late last year

The coffee chain’s sales and traffic slowed from October through December, according to the research firm Earnest Insights, the latest evidence of a slowdown.
Starbucks HQ
Starbucks' U.S. sales slowed late last year. | Photo: Shutterstock.

Starbucks’ sales, average-ticket growth and transactions slowed down during the last three months of 2023, according to the data firm Earnest Insights.

The firm cited credit card data indicating that year-over-year sales growth decelerated from 11.1% in October to just 3.3% in December.

Transaction count, meanwhile, slowed from 3.3% growth in October to a decline of 1% in December. And the increase in average ticket slowed from 7.5% to 4.4% over that same time period. In short, the company is getting fewer customers and they’re spending less freely in the process.

It is the latest indication of weakness in the Seattle-based beverage chain’s biggest market, the United States. The foot traffic data firm Placer.ai in late November noted that traffic on the company’s “Red Cup Day” slowed down last year compared with previous years. J.P. Morgan analyst, meanwhile, reduced its projections for the chain’s sales that month, citing credit card data.

Deutsche Bank analyst Lauren Silberman is predicting the company will report a 5% U.S. same-store sales increase for the last three months of 2023, Starbucks’ fiscal first quarter. That would be the lowest for the company since 2019, not including the pandemic-influenced 2020.

She suggests that “idiosyncratic factors,” such as negative press and a social media backlash, have contributed to the problem.

Starbucks has increased its promotions in recent months to generate traffic, but bad weather in January was likely not much of a help. Starbucks is running a number of orders through its mobile app, such as $3 Thursdays and buy-one, get-one offers on weekends. 

Concerns about Starbucks’ sales direction have put some pressure on the company’s stock in recent months. The stock is down 13% since mid-November, when its per-share price hit $107.

The company has faced a social media backlash in the aftermath of the Israel-Palestine crisis, with vandalism at some of its cafes in the U.S. and elsewhere growing severe enough to prompt CEO Laxman Narasimhan to denounce violence in a letter to the system. The company has been subjected to calls for boycotts on both sides of the issue.

As for who is getting those customers, some of them appear to be going to the drive-thru coffee chain Dutch Bros, at least according to Earnest. The firm said that its “share of Starbucks customers’ wallets” was 6% in December, up from 4% three years earlier.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.

Multimedia

Exclusive Content

Financing

In Red Lobster, a symbol of the challenges with casual dining

The Bottom Line: Consumers have shifted dining toward convenience or occasions, and that has created havoc for full-service restaurant chains. How can these companies get customers back?

Financing

Crumbl may be the next frozen yogurt, or the next Krispy Kreme

The Bottom Line: With word that the chain’s unit volumes took a nosedive last year, its future, and that of its operators, depends on what the brand does next.

Technology

4 things we learned in a wild week for restaurant tech

Tech Check: If you blinked, you may have missed three funding rounds, two acquisitions, a “never-before-seen” new product and a bold executive poaching. Let’s get caught up.

Trending

More from our partners