But Starbucks and small, independent coffeehouses alike now have growing concerns about the large number of customers who camp out for hours at their tables. These “laptop hobos” are working, surfing the Web, using the shop’s outlets as an unlimited power supply for their wireless devices and occasionally getting downright territorial with other customers over space.
This is a tempting argument to make, but wrongheaded. Coffee Shops started sprouting up everywhere in the U.S. because of massive demand for the coffee shop — not massive demand for coffee, mind you, but for the seats in the shops. This is evident with the way most shops are setup, but no more evidence needed than to look at the move of Starbucks providing free WiFi, instead of paid WiFi they started with.
Starbucks made that change because the little guys were offering free WiFi, and their lack of free WiFi was hindering the ability of Starbucks, Starbucks, to compete — people went to where the better amenities were/are. Because, with very few exceptions, most coffee shops are frequented as a place to hang out, not as a place to get good coffee — that’s the culture that surrounds coffee shops. Whether you have a laptop, book, or tablet in front of you is irrelevant — you are asking your customers to “stay, talk, read newspapers, but god don’t use a computer”?
The power draw from laptops is minimal, the WiFi cost negligible (you telling me you wouldn’t have WiFi for your business already?). The hardest part about retail is getting someones ass in your door. Once they are in your door, you stand a good chance at making a sale. Yes, there are mooches, but do they so drain your business that you need to kick out the non-mooches, or so punish those that just want a sit and sip on their coffee for two hours?
I stirred up a shit-storm on App.net about this, but my logic is pretty simple: better to have a full coffee shop of people paying $4 each, than to have a quarter of the people spending $8 each.
Remember kids: It doesn’t matter if you actually buy anything in a store, as long as you’re there taking up space. That’s how businesses make money apparently. #themoreyouknow
Seems to work fine for Apple Stores, but what do they know.
Mark Hughes, whom I don’t often agree with, sums it up nicely:
@benbrooks Some cafés tried limits, killing wifi, even kicking customers out when laptops and wifi first became popular, early ’00s. I got screamed at by an angry old man for having my laptop out, so I ditched that place. Those places went broke.
They didn’t just go broke, they are still going broke (I saw it happen just last month) — with exception to (perhaps) Blue Bottle.
@hcmarks @benbrooks Forget coffee shops. Libraries are evolving to fill this gap. My library goes so far as to have a snack lounge, seating by a fireplace, professional podcasting studios and an entire floor of conference rooms.
Now that’s a library I would frequent.
The problem isn’t WiFi or those mooching from it, the problem is that there is little reason to buy more than one $4 cup of shitty coffee. I don’t buy a new iPhone every year because they die every year, I buy them every year because they are compelling every year. Limiting access or time isn’t a compelling reason for consumers, that’s being hostile to them, a compelling reason is making your coffee actually taste good.1
Side note: Every coffee shop owner I ever talk to says the same thing: “We have the best coffee.” I think that mindset is a large part of the problem. ↩