Starbucks is an amazing brand. Although the company has had it’s share of challenges in recent years, they continue to grow and dominate the market. There is something great about sharing a conversation over cup of coffee with a client or colleague in the comfortable confines of Starbucks. Over the years I have spent countless hours and dollars on delicious cups of caffeinated bliss. Unfortunately, many times I was forced to choose another place to meet, because Starbucks did not offer free wi-fi. (Oakwood has it, but that is the municipal wi-fi.) When I knew I would need the internet, I would typically choose Panera over Starbucks as a neutral meeting place – even though I preferred meeting at Starbucks. The choice had to do with experience and not coffee.
Panera offers free internet access – something that is vital in many business meetings – whereas Starbucks asked me to pay for the web. I could never understand why Starbucks, a company that professed the desire to be my “third place,” would want me to pay for wireless internet access. Yes, they could make a few bucks but at what cost? The cost of giving wi-fi away to customers was almost nothing. The cost of charging for wi-fi just for me alone must have been equivalent to hundreds of cups of coffee sold to me by someone else. When presented with the obligation to pay, I just chose another “third place” which gave the competition a chance to build brand loyalty, change my behavioral patterns, and make money. Starbucks was selling coffee and the internet, while the competition was selling experience – the very thing Starbucks built the brand around. When I wanted wi-fi there were only two choices – free and everything else, and free almost always won.
So, I am delighted to hear that starting July 1st, Starbucks is going to begin offering free wi-fi to its customers – making my third place just like my first two. In spite of the fact that they are sacrificing much of revenue generated from wi-fi, I believe this to be a very smart marketing decision related to price – one that will cause me to visit and purchase much more often. Getting me and others to visit more often results in more coffee sold, more Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook updates promoting their business across the social web, and more positive experiences involving the brand. It is great to see Starbucks, one of my favorite brands, working to deliver a better experience for it’s caffeine addicted devotees.