Monday, September 28, 2009

Internet access -- not the coffee -- is likely primary attraction of U.S. coffee shops

MuniWireless has a summary and link to a social commentary piece that posits Americans go to coffee shops like Starbucks not so much for the coffee and baked goods or even the social ambiance savored -- slowly -- in European coffeehouses.

Instead, the draw is wireless high speed Internet access that has made U.S. coffee cafes more like public computing centers with patrons' making more eye contact with their laptop displays than other customers. (Query: I wonder if any U.S. coffee chains or shops applied for public computing center subsidies in broadband component of the economic stimulus package, especially during the current downturn that has customers buying fewer premium four dollar espresso drinks?)

Rather than socializing and conversing like their European coffeehouse counterparts, Americans are primarily there to get Internet access and to get work done -- or dash out the door with coffee to go in a paper cup instead of one made of china.

I suspect the difference between U.S. and European coffeehouses can't be fully ascribed to sociological factors. For many Americans, Starbucks and other retail coffee venues are about getting affordable broadband that can't be obtained at home due to the fractured and subpar state of premises-based advanced telecommunications infrastructure.


Carol Anne said...

Respectfully, Fred, you should really stick to what you know. 'Cause it's clear you know little about "coffee shops."

There are about 20% of the total number of customers each day at Centro Coffee House, on Main Street, in Placerville, who go there to use the WiFi. They tend to be about 50/50 split between those who can't get broadband at home of office, and those who can get on-line elsewhere. The other 80% are there for the ambiance, the quality, and the social interactions. Even I seldom bring in a computer to use the Wifi, even with my technology practice.

WiFi is an attractor, but it's not the primary reason most customers visit the coffee shop. They can go to other coffee shops on Main Street and get lower prices and the same free WiFi...but they come to Centro. Why would you think that's true?

WiFi is a temporary phenomenon, riding atop the past couple of decades' fad of coffee shops. As more people get Internet broadband access at home, that will mean more of them come for the coffee, not the WiFi. So, if public WiFi diminshes in value, and the coffee house survives, to what will you attribute that success?

WiFi adds about 12-15% to a Coffee House's gross sales, not the 50%+ your opinion might suggest.

Fred Pilot said...

For the record, I don't claim any expertise in coffee house marketing and operations. I merely discussed a premise by the author of the original article that for many, the big draw at coffee venues is WiFi access.

I expanded on the premise by pointing out a lot of these folks can't get a decent Internet connection at home because of inadequate wireline premises infrastructure.

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