Feature
News
1/4/2006
07:46 AM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Wi-Fi Continues Its Extended Coffee Break

Several years after the first coffee shops and cafes started installing wireless networks. more merchants and customers are discovering why they're a good idea -- particularly the free ones -- helping to put customer butts in empty seats.

With as many as 95 percent of laptops shipping with Wi-Fi support, use of Wi-Fi hotspots has, by most reports, been growing quickly. This trend gives many businesses an opportunity to differentiate themselves in the marketplace by offering Wi-Fi service.

Or, more bluntly, it gives retail businesses like coffee shops and cafes a tool for putting customer butts in empty seats. Some, like Starbucks and Borders have long offered Wi-Fi access -- for a price. But, increasingly, smaller book stores and coffee shops, as well as other venues, are trying to compete by offering free access.

Can this strategy work for these smaller businesses? And is the "free-is-better" approach hurting places like Starbucks? More than three years after some retailers started offering Wi-Fi access, some answers are starting to emerge.

Putting Butts In Seats

Starbucks is, perhaps, the highest-visibility retailer offering Wi-Fi service. It started its fee-based Wi-Fi service in August, 2002 and, today, the service is available in more than 4300 stores.

According to Starbucks spokesman Nick Davis, the coffee chain began offering Wi-Fi because they were hearing from customers that they wanted to stay connected while away from the office.

“We saw a real need for Internet connectivity. By offering Wi-Fi, it allowed us to meet [our customer’s] needs and enhance the experience at our coffee houses,” Davis said.

But it's not surprising that many users prefer free service to service they have to pay for -- Starbucks charges about $10 for daily access. That seemingly obvious fact was quantified last summer by a Jupiter Media report that found, at that time, only 20 percent of online consumers had used Wi-Fi hotspots and, of those, only nine percent were willing to pay for the service.

Enter national restaurant chains like St. Louis-based Panera Bread, with 825 bakery cafes in 36 states. It began rolling out free Wi-Fi in summer, 2003. According to Julie Somers, spokesperson for Panera, over 700 of the stores now offer the free service.

She says the company originally decided to offer free Wi-Fi, as a way to separate itself from the competition and to provide a friendly, welcoming environment. She says having Wi-Fi helps foster an environment where people want to stay, and if they buy food, all the better.

“We are the kind environment where all customers are welcome to hang out,” Somers said. “They can get a quick bite or a cup of coffee and read the paper or use a computer and stay as long as you like. And in the course of staying, people may have a cappuccino and a pastry or a soup.”

Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
IT's Reputation: What the Data Says
IT's Reputation: What the Data Says
InformationWeek's IT Perception Survey seeks to quantify how IT thinks it's doing versus how the business really views IT's performance in delivering services - and, more important, powering innovation. Our results suggest IT leaders should worry less about whether they're getting enough resources and more about the relationships they have with business unit peers.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Must Reads Oct. 21, 2014
InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of digital strategy. Learn why you should learn to embrace DevOps, how to avoid roadblocks for digital projects, what the five steps to API management are, and more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and trends on InformationWeek.com
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.