starbucks

Starbucks $450 holiday gift cards sell out in a flash

Dec. 6, 2013 at 5:28 PM ET

Starbucks $450 gift card.
Courtesy Starbucks
The 2013 rose-gold gift card.

Despite a $450 price tag, a limited-edition line of rose gold-colored metal Starbucks gift cards sold out Friday in less time than it takes to order a latte. 

The offering marked the second year the coffee chain has partnered with high-end daily deal site Gilt.com to sell the cards. With only 1,000 cards available, the deal was the more exclusive of the two.

"It took just seconds this year to sell out, which was phenomenal," said Alexis Maybank, Gilt Groupe co-founder and chief business development and strategy officer.

"We call them shopping athletes for a reason," she said. "Our customers are savvy and fast, and they were refreshing the page constantly. ... The second it opened up, they bought it,"

When the sale went live at noon, Maybank said, Gilt.com's hits per minute beat those on Cyber Monday by nearly 2.5 times. Within 30 minutes, more than 11,000 people had tried to get on a wait-list for the card.

About 500 cards were available to general Gilt.com members. About 400 had been made available a bit earlier to people who had achieved gold status in Starbucks' loyalty program; about 100 were sold accidentally when a link prematurely went live on Gilt on Thursday, according to Linda Mills, Starbucks' director of retail brand public relations.

Some would-be buyers took to Twitter to express their frustration at not being able to score a card.

This holiday season, Starbucks will be looking to repeat last year's performance, which CEO Howard Schultz called "stunning and almost unbelievable" on its fiscal first-quarter earnings call.

"Our Starbucks card had its best holiday season in history, as measured by any metric, with more than $1 billion loaded during Q1, the most ever loaded onto any kind of Starbucks card," he said according to the call transcript, provided by Morningstar. "Mobile e-gifting also delivered record holiday results, with the most popular days for e-gifting being Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Each card comes with $400 preloaded and gold status in Starbucks' loyalty program. The card is slightly unusual in that it sells for more than the merchandise value.

Mills attributed the price differential to the premium nature of the rose-gold card — a color Starbucks chose to project exclusivity. (The card does not actually contain gold.) 

"It actually costs us more than $50 to produce this card," she said. "That's what you're paying for — the quality of the card itself."

Last year, customers snapped up the limited-edition cards — which also cost $450 — in about six minutes.

"We absolutely exceeded our wildest expectations," Mills said of the sale in 2012. "It was the first time that we did it. We went out on a limb to see if people would value the card, and they did."

While Mills could not say what percentage of Starbucks gift card sales were represented by last year's steel cards, she said that roughly 10 percent of Americans received a Starbucks gift card for the holidays.

Those who weren't quick enough to snap up a card shouldn't fret. Even before the sale opened to the general public, a handful of cards were available on eBay from sellers saying they already had confirmed orders for the cards.

If 2012 is any indication, this year's cards could eventually fetch steep prices. Many of the 5,000 stainless-steel cards later sold for multiples of the original price on eBay.

—By CNBC's Katie Little. Follow her on Twitter @KatieLittle.

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