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July 7, 2008

Free Wi-Fi! (Kind Of, Sort Of, Not Really) from Dumb Starbucks


Poor Starbucks! The purveyor of caffeine-fueled trendiness has announced it will soon be closing 600 underperforming stores and laying off 12,000 people. It bears repeating. Poor Starbucks!


Dumb Starbucks. Hereís what caught my eye about the story. ABC News reported that Starbucks, in an attempt to better retain customers and attract new ones, is now offering free Wi-Fi. Did you hear that? Free Wi-Fi! Wow!


Whatís next? A place to sit?


As it turns out, the super-amazing offer of free Wi-Fi isnít even what it first appears to be. If, and only if, you buy a Starbucks Rewards Card, you get two hours a day, and only two hours a day, of free Wi-Fi.


I donít mean to unfairly mock and belittle Starbucksí offer, although itís hard to see how that would be possible. But I have seen this phenomenon before. Iíve never really come up with a name for it, but for the purposes of this column, I will attempt to do so on the fly.


It is the Weíre-So-Great-You-Should-Feel-Privileged-We-Let-You-In-Here-At-All Phenomenon. Weíll go with that.


I know coffee shops. I like to do my work in them instead of my office. There is no one there to bug me. (Well, there are different people bugging me in different ways. Variety is the spice of life.) There are four coffee shops within three miles of my house where I can sit all day long if I like, and I get free, unlimited Wi-Fi just for walking in. If I actually stay there that long, I generally buy at least a full meal, because if I didnít Iíd feel like I was mooching space and wireless access Ė but Iíve never seen the slightest evidence that these people mind at all.


They know the Wi-Fi is one of the reasons people become loyal customers. They would have Internet access anyway, and a wireless router doesnít cost very much, so itís a no-brainer for them to extend access to their customers with their compliments.


Not Starbucks!


The company that is closing 600 stores and laying off 7 percent of its workforce thinks Wi-Fi is something you should have to earn. If you buy one of their Rewards Cards, OK, fine, you can have a little bit of Wi-Fi, but hurry up and then move it along! Do you know how much $4 coffee they have to sell to pay for your two hours of free Wi-Fi?


There is a Starbucks right across the street from one of the four coffee shops I mentioned above. I went in there once. At the time, they had no Wi-Fi at all. Fortunately, I was able to pick up the network from the coffee shop across the street!


I never went back to that Starbucks. I never will. Why would I? For the $4 coffee?


Apparently certain people are so hooked on Starbucks coffee that they will put up with these indignities. Suit yourselves, folks. Thereís a whole lot more coffee out there and itís just as good if not better.


This sort of arrogance is usually fueled by a true ignorance of what else is out there. It was only a couple years ago that AOL was still running TV ads with amazed-sounding people talking about how, with AOL, they had e-mail. E-mail! They just love e-mail!


Everyone has freaking e-mail! My seven-year-old has it. Did AOL really not know this? I honestly think this is possible. I think itís possible that AOL executives didnít know there are other ways to get online besides through them. I think itís possible Starbucks executives donít know you can get free Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere.


But itís also possible they consider it beneath them to give it to you for free, no matter what other people do. Like the swanky restaurant where you get a five-ounce steak a la carte for $65, and if you want a vegetable, thatís extra. Theyíre swanky! You think youíre getting free vegetables? Ha! Go get on food stamps if thatís what you want!


This isnít limited to retail establishments, either. Have you ever driven into Chicago from Michigan, via northern Indiana? Then you know the entire route is filled with construction slowdowns. What you may not know is that those construction slowdowns have been there for more than 20 years.


They never finish, and they never make any appreciable progress. Why not? My theory is that theyíre not doing anything. Chicago just thinks itís so great that you should have to work a little harder to get into it.


Maybe arrogance sells. Or maybe you really do think so little of yourself that youíre willing to be treated like dirt by the people who say, ďHey you, customers: Weíre the king!Ē


Iíd better wrap this up. If youíre sitting at Starbucks reading it, youíre running out of time.

© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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