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Thursday, August 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:20 PM

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Starbucks coupon gets out of hand

Seattle Times business reporter

Some said the deal was too good to be true, and in the end, they were right.

After a week of giving away free iced coffee, Starbucks has canceled the coupons that made it all possible.

The bonanza started last Wednesday with an e-mail to some employees in the Southeast, who were encouraged to forward friends and family a coupon for a free grande iced beverage.

And forward it they did.

Within a week, the coupon had made the rounds on e-mail, blogs and Web sites such as SlickDeals.net. Many doubted it was real, and some recounted tales of coupons not being honored.

But enough coupons were honored to get Starbucks' attention. The jig was up Tuesday night, when the Seattle-based coffee giant issued a news release canceling the offer immediately, even though the coupons carry a Sept. 30 expiration date.

The release said the offer had been "redistributed beyond the original intent and modified beyond Starbucks control." A spokeswoman declined to elaborate.

It is not clear why Starbucks launched the promotion, but it would be interesting to know whether the coupons, good from noon to 9 p.m., shifted demand for iced beverages from mornings to the afternoon.

Starbucks has blamed its lackluster July sales figures on high demand for iced beverages during peak morning hours, a quandary that led to longer wait times.

August sales figures come out today.

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Elizabeth Hoogs of Seattle wasn't too disappointed about the demise of the coupon, which she learned was invalid just moments after it appeared in her in-box on Wednesday morning.

"I don't even like Starbucks, but I would've gone if I had a free coupon," she said.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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