Being a frequent Starbucks customer, I've noted laptop users in the ubiquitous stores tuning in to what I assumed was free Wi-Fi. After all, these days even the most humble coffee house usually offers a complimentary Internet connection, so why wouldn't this corporate giant?
Greed, I guess.
Because after my router decided to stop routing this morning, I packed up my ThinkPad and took it with me to the West Salem Starbucks, where, after chatting for a bit with friends, I opened it up for some well-deserved Internet access.
Well-deserved, because my habitual grande nonfat vanilla latte sets me back $4.00, after I plunk the sixty cents I get back in change for the $3.40 drink into the tip jar.
And I've bought a bunch of them over the years, each contributing to Starbucks' profit margin. But today when I needed twenty minutes of Wi-Fi access with my latte, the only web site I could reach was T-Mobile's HotSpot page.
Where I learned that I could use my laptop all I wanted at Starbucks for a "mere" $29.99 a month, or $9.99 for one day's access. One hour would cost me $6.00, even if I just needed a few minutes of connect time.
Everybody at my table, all regular Starbucks customers, was surprised. Shocked, even.
I can go into downtown Salem's humble Coffee House Café and enjoy free Wi-Fi, even though this establishment neither has "bucks" in its name nor nearly as many in its cash register.
Returning home, I figured out how to bypass my recalcitrant router and found quite a few others dismayed by Starbucks' squeeze out every nickel from patrons corporate policy.
Unhappy customers can be found here, here, and here. Starbucks' defense of their price gouging was pretty lame. Basically it was that we have lots of locations where we can rip you off for Wi-Fi access, so be grateful for the convenience.
I read that one argument for charging Internet users is to keep people from hanging out at tables all day long for the price of a cup of java.
Well, somehow independent coffee houses with free Internet deal with this problem (or non-problem). And as this guy suggested:
If I ran Starbucks I would drop the T-Mobile partnership and provide a Wi-Fi WPA key on the receipt that's good for 90 minutes with any purchase over $2.50. That way they wouldn't have the problem with people hanging out all day without buying anything just to use the Wi-Fi and it's also certain to increase sales.
He should be running the Starbucks marketing department. Because I'm vowing to take my latte business elsewhere, whenever possible.
I like to get a latte after my Wednesday Tai Chi class. There's a Starbucks half a block away. But the Coffee House Café is just a short walk further. To me it's worth a few extra steps to stand up against a corporate rip-off.
I need my lattes. And I also need my Internets. Once I've paid for my caffeine fix, I shouldn't be gouged again for my broadband addiction.
Hopefully Starbucks will come to realize that treating customers right is a surer route to long-term success than squeezing them for every nickel and dime (hourly Internet access is ten cents a minute).
The Starbucks stock price has dropped a lot this year, obviously due to bad Wi-Fi karma. Open your eyes, Starbucks management.