Starbucks has a bathroom problem.
While the coffee outpost shifted to an open-bathroom policy in 2018, letting anyone use the restrooms even if they didn’t make a purchase, a joint study by the University of Texas at Dallas and Boston College found the move actually backfired in terms of visitors visiting coffee shops.
Forbes reported that monthly visits to Starbucks dropped by nearly 7% compared to other nearby coffee shops shortly after Starbucks implemented its open-door bathroom policy. The study, which was in partnership with data company SafeGraph, measured cellphone data from more than 10 million electronic devices, tracking about 10,800 Starbucks locations in the US over a 20-month period between 2017 and 2018.
One of the study’s findings was how Starbucks’ near homeless shelters had nearly declined double in customer traffic compared to those that were more spaced out. In addition, Starbucks’ average customer’s income dropped with fewer visits from clientele that made more, while the average customer spent 4.2% less time in Starbucks compared to other coffee shops after the bathroom change.
A Starbucks representative denied the findings of the report, saying that customers are visiting Starbucks at “record numbers.”
“Rather than tracking cell phone data without user knowledge, we see real customers in our stores and the connections they make with our partners (employees) every day across more than 31,000 stores,” the representative said.
Starbucks posted a sales growth of 6% in Q4, according to the company’s latest earnings report. Sales over a two-year period grew 10% for Q4, which the company said was its best performance over two years.
The open-bathroom policy study comes before Starbucks is set to open its largest coffee outpost in the world later this week in Chicago, unveiling the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, an immense 35,000 square feet location spanning across five floors on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.