Just in time for the holidays, the trend-setting coffee behemoth on Wednesday will be at the forefront of what could be yet another cultural hot button: the super premium gift card. The Starbucks Metal Card isn't made of plastic, but steel. Each specially etched card, loaded with $400, costs $50 to make, which Starbucks says explains the $450 price tag.
Starbucks will make only 5,000 of them. But you can't buy them at any Starbucks store. They'll only be sold via the luxury goods website, Gilt.com. The card comes with gold-level Starbucks card membership benefits, such as gifts and freebie refills on brewed coffee and tea.
"Some stores will never even see this card," boasts Ryan Records, vice president of card and payments at Starbucks.
But not everyone is impressed. "This is a card for the 1%," says cultural anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff. "It's all about status, and to tell you the truth, I don't know if I'd want to be seen with one of these."
The move by Starbucks blends two growing trends: consumer love of gift cards and upper-end exclusivity. The costly gift card follows another recent, pricey rollout: a limited brew coffee sold in 46 Starbucks stores, which fetches $7 for a 16-ounce cup.
"I won't be at all surprised to see other retailers follow," says National Retail Federation vice president of operations Daniel Butler.
Its appeal is exclusivity, says Jason Goldberger, executive vice president at Gilt.com, "When you're waiting in line at Starbucks, the next person in line won't have it."
On Thursday, Starbucks members will have first access to the card on Gilt.com's website before it's available to all on Friday, Goldberger says. "We've never sold anything like this," he says. Nor has Starbucks.
For collectors, it could be huge. Some limited-edition Starbucks cards have sold on eBay for thousands of dollars, says Records.
Who will Records buy one for? "I think my Mom is due for one."
(Copyright © 2012 USA TODAY)