It's been about a year since Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz penned an internal memo - which went external - bemoaning the fact that the coffeehouse chain had lost its way. Schultz talked about getting "back to the core" and evoking "the passion we all have for the true Starbucks experience." Fastforward to January 7th of this year, when Schultz added CEO responsibilities, and the words "Starbucks experience" came up again, along with a "relentless focus on the customer" (see post Starbucks Announces Return to Roots).
Today's announcement that Starbucks will roll out a more consumer friendly Wi-Fi service is certainly a step in the right direction to create a richer "Starbucks experience". But holy cow, what took so long?? I've often wondered why Starbucks thought its deal with T-Mobile, where you paid $10 for a one day pass, or six bucks for an hour, was in any way a great benefit for consumers. It opened the door for competitors like Panera Bread and local coffee shops to offer free Wi-Fi as a differentiator. And sure enough, if you stroll into a Panera, you'll find a dozen or more people online. Oh, and they're usually purchasing food and drink as well.
Starbucks new deal with AT&T, nicely detailed in a post by Glen Fleishman at WiFiNetNews.com, means some 7,000 U.S. based Starbucks will offer free Wi-Fi to millions of AT&T broadband and Uverse customers ... and here's the part that calmed me down after first steaming when it seemed like an AT&T customer-only benefit ... anyone with a Starbucks Card - those refillable cash cards that you give as gifts or use yourself - can use the new Wi-Fi service for two hours each day, at no charge. And each additional two hour block is four dollars. And for Starbucks employees - all 100,000 of them - add free 'anytime' Wi-Fi to the perk list.
I can hear the cries now of those of you who have to muscle your way through the crowds at high-traffic Starbucks locations. It will only get more crowded. But there are plenty of Starbucks with lighter traffic, like the one within walking distance of my home. I've already planned a daily excercise routine: grab laptop, walk half mile to lightly populated Starbucks, pay two dollars for large coffee, work online for two hours, walk home. Total price? Two dollars.
All in all, especially if AT&T's Wi-Fi has fatter pipes and doesn't drop out as much as T-Mobile's, this is a great move by Starbucks - good ultimately for its bottom line and good for consumers. I predict you'll see a sizeable jump in laptoppers as the new service rolls out (starts in the Spring). And two hours is plenty for most folks. I think this is the most impactful thing Starbucks could've done in the short period of time since Schulz's takeover as CEO. We'll see what he has up his sleeve next.