A latte at Starbucks, however overpriced, doesn’t really qualify for the short list of American’s biggest rip-offs. Most Starbucks customers are well aware of the fact that the cost to make a coffee or mocha is a teeny-tiny fraction of the price they pay in a coffee shop; they pay the inflated price anyway, writing it off as a small worthwhile splurge. But what if Starbucks was adding a fee to certain purchases, and the chain wasn’t even disclosing the fee, so that customers were unknowingly paying more than the listed price?
Actually, Starbucks was charging such a fee. For years, apparently. The Boston Globe reports that in recent weeks, a Massachusetts consumer affairs bureau fined a handful of Starbucks locations for violating consumer disclosure regulations. It had been brought to the bureau’s attention that these Starbucks stores were secretly adding a fee of roughly $1.50 to any order of beans weighing under one pound.
The Starbucks coffee houses simply advertised bean prices by the pound. But if a customer bought a half-pound or three-quarters of a pound of beans, an extra fee was added to the usual rate. The fee wasn’t listed anywhere in the stores, and it wasn’t itemized on receipts either. It was just mysteriously added to the final price, so that a customer buying a half-pound of $11.95/lb. beans wound up paying $7.45—not around $5.98, or half of $11.95.
It’s fairly common to have to pay a premium for foods and other goods in smaller quantities. It’s basically the flip side of getting a discount by buying in bulk.
What’s not cool—and what violates most states’ consumer-protection regulations—is the failure to disclose how customers are forced to pay a premium for smaller-sized items.
Five Starbucks locations were hit with $1,575 in fines for the violations, but the fees weren’t limited to a handful of coffee shops. Apparently, it was standard practice to add the fee at all Starbucks.
The key word here is was—because in the aftermath of the coffeehouse being hit with fines, it dropped the $1.50 fee nationwide.