There was a report in Saturday's Wall Street Journal — we know; how could we not have read it then? — that Starbucks chairman Howard Schulz is growing dissatisfied with the "watering down" of his brand, and it contained a shocker: He apparently fears that his chain has become "commodified." (Um, yeah? We always assumed that was the point.) In a February 14 e-mail, unsurprisingly sporting the subject line "The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience," the beleaguered Schulz lamented the loss of the "romance and theatre" of a visit to one of his stores, claiming that baristas no longer know customers' favorite drinks or pull espressos by hand, and that a change in coffee packaging had caused the "loss of aroma — perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores." Some people, wrote Schulz, even "call our stores sterile, cookie cutter." We'll ignore, for now, the fact that the chairman of one of the largest chains in the world took twenty years to realize that opening stores on pretty much every corner will knock out the intimacy of, well, any experience (or the fact that there has to be something wrong with a culture that looks for intimacy in its coffee-buying experience). We'll just say that we would love the bathrooms of any Starbucks on the isle of Manhattan to get a little more sterile and a little less powerfully non-verbal signaling.
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