Now I’m a huge fan of Starbucks. I love a good latte and have in the past been a daily “user”….
Recently though, I’ve found myself going out of my way to go to some other bakeries in the area to get a coffee and a pastry of some sort…why? Free Wi-Fi. Starbucks has Wi-Fi but they use the t-mobile hotspot that requires a subscription, that varies from $6 for an hour, to $29 per month.
Panera Bread specifically has started to become a place of note in my life because it is a Wi-Fi oasis of sorts. It’s got to the point where I know where the nearest Panera Bread is depending on where I am in the neighborhood.
Now I’m not sure how many people there are who are so addicted to Internet access that any free Wi-Fi thing is going to be a place of note, but for me it’s changing my buying behavior. Sure Starbucks is better coffee, and generally a better experience, but Panera Bread has ok coffee, ok experience, better sandwiches, and free Wi-Fi. For me, that wins most of the time.
IMHO as Starbucks morphs into an entertainment (music/movies) company free Wi-Fi is going to be more essential to the rest of their business. I mean they sell a tonne of CD’s and I know their opening some hybrid music/coffee “hear music” stores, and recently they’ve been promoting the Akeelah and the Bee movie.
In fact, if they were giving away free Wi-Fi they could gain control of that first landing page, because right now the first thing that I see when I log onto a Starbucks Wi-Fii is a bunch of marketing material for T-Mobile. When you log into a Panera Bread network, you get the chance to sign up for the Panera Bread newsletter before you go online.
Clearly free hotspots are part of the strategy