Monday, June 14, 2010

Starbucks to Offer Free Wi-Fi

Starbucks to Start Offering Free Wi-FiStarbucks made a big announcement today. As of July 1st, the company will be offering free Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi will be provided by AT&T and is available for any Starbucks customer with the simple click of a button. Starbucks CEO Howard D. Schultz made the announcement today at a press conference in New York. According to The New York Times, he described it as "a way to bridge the online world and real-world coffee outlets."

Ironically, most coffee shops already offer free Wi-Fi. Starbucks is a little late to the game. Starbucks customers could buy and registered a Starbucks card that would allow them two hours of internet access. Beyond those two hours, or if you did not have the card, you had pay $3.99 per two hours.

On the other hand, the coffee shops who do have free internet access seem to be working on telling customers who use their tables as their own personal offices to get out sooner rather than later. Whether they are posting signs telling customers they must purchase something if they plan to stay or covering power outlets with tape so that people may not charge their laptops up, most less recognizable shops are doing just the opposite of what Starbucks is about to offer.

Currently, Starbucks says their customers usually use about an hour of Wi-Fi on average. They don't expect that number to change, even with the free Wi-Fi. Stephen Gillett, the chief information officer at Starbucks, as well as the general manager of Digital Ventures, a business unit created by Starbucks, will manage the network.

So, is Starbucks' move just a way to drive the economy? In January, after announcing a same-store sales increase of 4% after many months of declines, Starbucks said the improvements are due to its "role as an office for the unemployed." The company said many people use their stores as a place to work on resumes or work on freelance writing jobs.

In addition to the new free network, Starbucks is partnering with Yahoo to give customers more digital content. The Starbucks Digital Network will give customers free access to sites such as The Wall Street Journal, as well as allowing downloads from sites such as iTunes. Customers will also get content from sites such as Zagat, and Patch by AOL.

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