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June 30, 2021

Starbucks unveils free Wi-Fi, but is that wise?

Much of the culture surrounding Starbucks, whether acceptable or infuriating, has been the guy in the ExtraCoffeewithCaramel_898_2432 corner on his laptop, sipping a latté for the world to see.

To stereotype: he might be wearing a tweed blazer and the style of jeans fitting a man ten years his junior. Chances are, he also doesn’t mind spending $5.25 on a coffee, so long as he can show the world that he’s almost finished a screenplay that “Bradley Cooper would just be perfect for.”

For better or worse, this is Starbucks personified. But sure as these bozos are out there, there’s likely a share of the coffee chain’s customers who just want to pop in to visit their local barista, maybe sit and check out the paper for 15 minutes and vamoose. They don’t want to plop down and take up a table for three-and-a-half hours.

Starbucks is no doubt aware of both groups. Though the decision they’ve just made favours only one.

The U.S. coffee giant announced today they will begin rolling out free, unlimited Wi-Fi in 750 of their Canadian Starbucks locations, reversing a longstanding tradition of holding customers to just two hours of wireless access.

Before, coffee drinkers also needed to purchase a food or drink in order to log onto Starbucks’ Wi-Fi service.

Now, according to a Starbucks exec, allowing unlimited Wi-Fi to all passersby won’t be a legitimate concern to traffic inside the restaurant.

“We’ve found that customers who bring laptops to Starbucks have averaged about an hour of Wi-Fi use during a visit,” the exec told the Star. “We don’t expect that free access will make people linger longer.”

But the sceptic in me wonders if allowing – nay, promoting – casual Internet browsing among laptop and smartphone users won’t alienate a large chunk of potential customers.

Starbucks drinkers are no doubt loyal, but how many times will they continue to nab a coffee from their local outlet when there’s a reduced prospect of being able to sit and enjoy it?

If there’s a Williams or Second Cup or, goodness, even a McDonald’s next door, will Starbucks be able to keep its customers when so much of the Starbucks experience involves treating your pricey beverage like a dessert – one that begs you sit down and savour every drop?

Of course, I don’t even really like coffee, so what the hell do I know here? You tell us.

Starbucks drinkers: do laptop users taking up prime real estate bug you, and if so, will allowing them to dominate your chain’s landscape turn you off a bit?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...