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Here's How Starbucks Has Handled Coronavirus in China

By Daniel B. Kline - Mar 3, 2020 at 10:34AM

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It could be a blueprint for the how it operates should a major U.S. outbreak occur.

Starbucks (SBUX 3.76%) has a major presence in China and it has faced significant business disruptions due to COVID-19, the disease that has infected 90,000 people worldwide. The company has been aggressive in how it has handled the situation, with Starbucks Coffee International President John Culver making it clear where the company's priorities are.

"We're focused on making sure we're taking care of our partners, their health and well-being, as well as the customers," he said during the coffee company's first-quarter earnings call.

A person is delivering Starbucks.

Starbucks could curtail delivery or close stores if coronavirus becomes a major problem in the U.S. Image source: Starbucks.

How Starbucks has handled closures

Culver said the company has worked with the local government to decide when to close stores. It has also been proactive in closing in order to protect the health of its workers and customers.

"We currently have over half our stores closed in the market," he said during the late-January call. "We are assessing this each and every day."

Starbucks still offers delivery from stores that have remained open. That's also being evaluated on a daily basis, according to Culver.

"In China, we feel there is no other company that's better positioned to navigate this given our relationship ...  and trust we've been able to build with our partners and the relationship and trust that they've been able to build with their customers," he added.

A dry run for the U.S.?

If coronavirus becomes a major issue in the U.S., expect Starbucks to put employee and customer safety over short-term profits. That's the right thing to do but it's also not a purely altruistic move. Closing stores proactively protects the company from the public relations nightmare that it would face if staying open led to Starbucks being blamed for spreading the virus.

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