When Starbucks introduced for-pay Wi-Fi in 2002, it seemed like a great deal (especially for business customers who could expense it). But five years later, the model appears old and stale and ready for a complete overhaul. Prediction: Starbucks will start rolling out free Wi-Fi access within one year.
I wish. This seems to me like a no-brainer from the Starbucks perspective, but then again, I’ve been saying that since they first introduced it (it never really seemed like a “great deal” to me, even at the time—then again, I never could expense it…)
As I’ve written before, I think free Wi-Fi makes good business sense: it brings in customers and makes them happy. (Caveat: this doesn’t necessarily mean a free-for-all. It makes perfect sense to me to give limited-time coupons with a purchase, for example. But the point is to get customers in to your store with a relatively minimum investment.)
The Computerworld article suggests that Starbucks is competing with McDonalds, which has started rolling out free Wi-Fi. Perhaps, although personally, I would never choose between Starbucks and McDonalds on the basis of Wi-Fi access. I just don’t think they have the same target market, at least, not for anyone I know. Then again, the article suggests that increasing access via mobile devices like iPhones might be shaking this up, and that might well be true, as those devices have a completely different usage pattern (I imagine, though I don’t know that this has yet been proven) than laptops.
Regardless of the motivation, I might actually consider going to a Starbucks on occasion if they offered free (or even reasonably priced) Wi-Fi. (Or perhaps that would simply encourage more independents to offer Wi-Fi, something that’s been shockingly lacking in San Francisco, especially as compared to Seattle, for example).