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Most coffee shops look down on customers using a purchased cup of coffee as an excuse to take up a table and surf the internet all day. But Starbucks will soon be encouraging it.

The coffee chain recently started offering free WiFi in its shops. And soon that will come complete with Starbucks specific programming. Rather than compete with McDonald's on the coffee front, it looks like Starbucks is hoping that its tech partnerships will help bring customers through the front door.

Customers who access the internet from Starbucks locations starting this fall will be shown a homepage with a slew of Starbucks exclusive content. Included will be free access to to the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The New York Times.

The Starbucks Digital Network will have six different online channels: News, Entertainment, Wellness, Business & Careers, My Neighborhood and Starbucks.

Some features include Zagat ratings for nearby restaurants and free iTunes downloads. Starbucks’s Vice President of Digital Ventures Adam Brotman promises that there will be access to “more exciting Apple stuff” in the future. They are also partnering with Yahoo to get some of that company's content — and potentially grow viewership for the portal.

With McDonald's moving into the coffee space, Starbucks is dealing with more competition than ever. The company's stock has been fairing poorly, and the chain has been forced to close stores recently, which is an abrupt turnaround from its once ever-expanding global brand.

Starbucks' new network is “free, one-click Wi-Fi” and will be available at all of the chain's US stores, which total over 6,800. 

Starbucks may have popularized specialty coffee drinks in America, but in 2010, that notion is commoditized. Here, Starbucks is trying to add value to its coffee experience and leverage its reputation as a more upscale coffee brand. If media goes behind a paywall and Starbucks plans to provide its frequent customers free access to that content, it could make iteslf very useful again.

But does Starbucks have the space to get its users hooked on digital content? Most cafe owners hold tables at a premium. And while providing free digital access to the morning paper might be a good way to increase customer loyalty, if all (or even a majority) of their customers takes them up on it, they will effectively ruin the in-store experience. But Starbucks isn't worried about that.  As Brotman tells Mashable:

“This is just the beginning of how we plan to leverage this channel."

Images: Starbucks, Mashable

Meghan Keane

Published 13 August, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Ben Silverstein

I like this idea. Starbucks is more than a coffee shop. You would never go to a McDonalds or even a Dunkin Donuts with a computer if you need to get work done. Starbucks offers business travelers on the go a place to set up a feel like they can get some real work done in a business like environment. I think this could also help the struggling news papers. If Starbucks drives traffic to their sites, then they may be able to charge more for their online ads, a big issue the papers are facing today.

over 6 years ago

Nuttakorn Rattanachaisit

Nuttakorn Rattanachaisit, Consultant at Possible Worldwide

This is good starting point from Starbucks especially they have all free WIFI around the globe, the Starbucks portal will be starting journey of web surfing. I hope this will be happen in Singapore very soon. 

over 6 years ago

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Simon Taylor

This strategy is predicated on the notion that media will go behind a pay wall.  With the net neutrality fail Google, Verizon & the FDC are revelling in, this is looking more likely than ever, but it still doesn't taste right.

Kudos to Starbucks for adding value, but until Paywall's are an every day reality isn't this just doing an Aol?  I like the statement "this is just the beginning"... but I'm not sure this is the silver bullet they were looking for.  If they had the FT or Wall St journal paywall type access then maybe.

Now one free iTunes download with your 10th coffee stamp... that could work?

over 6 years ago

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Courtenay Pitcher, Blogger at VernonGirl.com

I used Starbucks on holidays when I couldn't find a WIFI connection elsewhere. It's very convenient.

over 6 years ago

Mark Chapman

Mark Chapman, Director of Client Strategy + Services at White Hat Media

Companies (like Starbucks and The Times newspaper) see commercial potential 'ring fencing' online content behind pay walls.

Many years ago, many of the Internet's pioneers envisaged a worldwide web that was an exciting, free-sharing, big (worldwide) society.

Things have changed, haven't they? Interesting e-times. Will business online become like business offline? Can there ever be any difference?

The e-revolution continues to unfold... mark.

over 6 years ago

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