Starbucks is missing the mark…again.

March 21, 2009

Originally posted on 12.9.08

I entered my local Starbucks the other day (@ the corner of Sheffield and Diversey) to grab a coffee and, for the first time, actually spend my afternoon there.

In a way, it was exciting. It had probably been since college that I’d had the time to spend the afternoon with my computer, some good beats, my headphones and the “online-freedom” my Mac allows me to enjoy at these Wi-Fi hotspots.

Or, so I thought…

Things have changed at Starbucks. They have apparently struck a deal with AT&T to be the sole provider of “subscription-based” Wi-Fi access. Yeah, news to me, too.

Now, I’m sure that AT&T is paying Starbucks a whole mess of money for the rights to pillage their Wi-Fi seeking customers, but doesn’t this cannibalize a huge part of the Starbucks brand experience? At a time when Starbucks is trying to revert back to its roots–great coffee, a great, social atmosphere, with no smelly sandwiches wafting through the air? From what I gather, a HUGE part of “coffee shop” experience is being able to hangout–grab a coffee (maybe one, maybe three) and enjoy access to FREE internet. It is, in essence, about the CUSTOMER.

By charging customers $3-4 for each three hour period, or monthly subscriptions (with a 12 month agreement!) doesn’t this piss off the customers? Customers who used to be able to go get a coffee and enjoy themselves, now feel like they are being squeezed at every angle. Sounds like a relaxing experience…

Now, I realize that Starbucks offers customers the option of registering their “Starbucks Cards” (which I had always thought were simply gift cards), and somehow accruing “frequent-buyer points,” but that potential is so poorly communicated, that I wouldn’t imagine more than 5% of Starbuck’s regular customers even know about it–last month was the first I had heard.

Secondly, the process of actually registering a card (I did) and then having to continually reload it with money (I didn’t) so you can use it, made the whole thing seem like more trouble than it was worth. Was it too normal or easy for Starbucks to just make the cards function like regular frequent-buyer/club card that have been around for decades? I’d have no problem going online ONCE to register something like that.

Perhaps I’m overreacting, but Starbucks is slowly losing my business, especially in the afternoon. There are plenty of alternatives offering better coffee, an absence of cheese and bacon smells, and FREE Wi-Fi…FREE!

Any thoughts?

UPDATE: Kevin Coupe, recently shared his thoughts on Starbucks and their lack of vision/leadership. Coup argues CEO, Howard Schultz’s failure to fully understand and embrace the customer experience and the brand’s true essence, is the primary reason for their continued decline and their recent subpar financial performance.

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