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Starbucks Announces New Upgrade

BY CSA STAFF

Seattle Howard D. Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, announced on Wednesday changes for the company as it seeks to reconnect with customers who have left for competitors or pared back their coffee budgets in hard economic times, according to the New York Times.

The initiatives are intended to restore an authentic coffeehouse experience to the stores, said Schultz, and in turn re-energize an ailing stock that has lost half its value in the last 15 months.

At the annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday, Schultz introduced an improved automated espresso machine that grinds coffee for each drink and has a lower height that will allow customers to see baristas making their beverages. He said the company would roll out the Swiss-made Mastrena machines to three-fourths of Starbucks stores by 2010.

He also announced the acquisition of the Coffee Equipment Co., the four-year-old Seattle-based maker of the Clover coffee machine, which brews a more expensive, higher-quality coffee one cup at a time. The price was not disclosed. Starbucks will roll out Clover systems in select markets, according to Schultz.

Schultz described other plans, such as a new coffee blend, a partnership with Conservation International to certify environmentally responsible whole-bean espresso products, and a rewards program for users of the Starbucks customer card.

Beginning in mid-April, users of the customer card will be able to customize their drinks—with soy milk or vanilla, for example—at no cost. Starbucks also introduced a new online community, www.mystarbucksidea.com, where Schultz and other managers will contribute to a corporate blog. Customers will be encouraged to visit the site to make suggestions and interact with employees. The site opened on Thursday.

Looking further ahead, Schultz said that the company plans to introduce health- and wellness-related food and drinks and energy beverages later in the year.

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Amazon.com completes Audible buy

BY CSA STAFF

SEATTLE Amazon.com today announced that Audible has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company. All remaining outstanding shares of Audible, other than those held by stockholders who properly perfect appraisal rights under Delaware law, were converted into the right to receive $11.50 per share in cash.

Audible is the leading provider of spoken audio information and entertainment on the Internet. Through its websites in the US and UK and alliances in Germany and France, Audible offers over 80,000 programs, including audiobooks and other spoken word content from more than 520 content partners that include leading audiobook publishers, broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers, and business information providers. Content from Audible is downloaded and played back on personal computers, CDs, or AudibleReady computer-based and wireless mobile devices.

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Retailers come to aid of HD-DVD owners

BY CSA STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS The sudden end to the high-definition DVD format war has retailers scrambling to find ways to compensate customers who bought into the losing HD-DVD format.

Best Buy reported today that it is giving $50 gift cards to customers who bought an HD-DVD player or HD-DVD attachment from its U.S. stores before Feb. 23. In addition, starting on March 21, the company is offering customers who don’t want to get rid of their HD-DVD players the chance to trade them in for a value determined by the Best Buy’s Online Trade-In Center.

The DVD format war has divided our customers in a way we havent seen since Betamax took on VHS more than 20 years ago, said Brian Dunn, president and coo for Best Buy. At Best Buy, we understood and shared our customers frustrations as they were being asked to choose one format or the other. Now that the format war is over, we hope these gift cards will reassure our customers that we will help them make a smooth transition into the right technology for their needs. 

Circuit City is giving customers who jumped on the HD-DVD bandwagon this year a longer period of time to return their players. The chain last week extended its 30-day return policy on purchases to 90 days for HD-DVD players. The policy applies only to players though and not to HD-DVD discs.

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