How free wifi is helping Starbucks achieve third place status

by Carl Natale on August 12, 2010

When Starbucks announced it would make wifi free in its cafes, the news was greeted with a lot of yawns. Free wifi at a coffee shop was nothing new. Starbucks merely was trying to catch up to local competitors.

Here’s a bit of news that will cure the yawns better than one of their expensiccinos. Starbucks has plans for an in-cafe only network of premium content.

Starbucks customers will be able to access content like the Wall Street Journal for free from wifi. There are partnerships with other content providers too. Why?

The company already knows that computer users spend about one hour per visit on Wi-Fi while mobile users stick around for 15 minutes per web session. Plus, Starbucks has a history of curating music and pop culture content with in-store selections. SDN is the realization that nationwide free Wi-Fi offers Starbucks more access to its customers; it is a marriage of digital convenience and curatorial prowess.

via How Starbucks Plans to Capitalize on Free Wi-Fi.

Here’s why I’m writing about this:

  • No, I’m not excited about going to Starbucks to read the WSJ or Women’s Health stories. I doubt anyone else is either. But it does give wifi users something else to do when they turn on their computers. It should make the Starbucks experience a little more comfortable.
  • So far this thing is going by the name Starbucks Digital Network. You know that’s not going to last. My bet is that there is a marathon brainstorming session to create a name using the Starbucks naming convention.
  • How long before the SDNiccino offers e-commerce. You can already buy CDs at Starbucks. So why not offer merchandise over wifi? Use the same partnership model with content providers. Offer in-cafe only deals. Maybe even earn a commission. Note this is very similar to an idea offered to newspapers. Starbucks can become digital malls.
  • Speaking of newspapers, this can be an opportunity for local papers to become part of the SDNiccino.  My bet is that local content will become as popular as the national content.
  • Screw Starbucks. My bet is that they will laugh at the opportunity to offer stories from the Podunk Daily. So walk across the street and strike up a deal with their competitors.
  • The SDNiccino sounds high tech and complicated. But I bet it’s not. A smart programmer can create a standard package that allows mom and pops to create in-store networks cheaply and efficiently. This also creates opportunities for local network admins (let’s call them netmasters) to maintain and populate with content.

Third place is what makes this work

Third place is a concept from community building. We all have homes and workplaces. Communities need third places for people to meet and interact. Coffee shops offer wonderful venues for such interaction.

All though we’re importing real life into digital networks, we still crave these third places. That’s why we all have cell phones and want as much information and computing power as possible on our devices. Expecting people to walk into a Starbucks to buy an expensiccino and read the NYT is not a stretch.

The next step is to encourage customers to share what they’re reading. Encourage them to start conversations from Starbucks. That’s really going to extend their visits.

How? That’s worth another look. Let me grab another coffee and get back to you on it.

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