Starbucks blocks electrical outlets in its cafes – What?

As you may have heard from the media, some Starbucks stores are blocking electrical outlets.  Since I have been involved with the company and written The Starbucks Experience, I am often asked about decisions that affect Starbucks customers. For today’s blog, I thought I would share my response to a recent inquiry concerning the “outlet issue” as posed by reporter from the  Ma’ariv Newspaper in Israel.  So here’s my take..

“I should preface my remarks by noting that to my understanding the decision to block power outlets was not a corporate one but instead was being made by some Starbucks store managers. The stores that I am aware of are in NYC where seating space is difficult to secure given that some customers huddle around power outlets for hours.  These store level decisions are consistent with an overarching Starbucks goal of creating the highest quality coffee house experience that serves as the living room for the community.  I view such decisions as utilitarian in nature and in keeping with the key experiential offering of the brand – to facilitate a welcoming environment where people can have a conversation over a cup of coffee.

Starbucks was never designed to be a cybercafe and leaders were reluctant to make “wi-fi” free, in part due to the types of complexities being addressed in Manhattan at present.  Other American cafe brand’s like Panera Bread (which embraced free wifi early on) have had to place limits on how much wifi time individuals can have at peak hours.  While personally I am not a fan of having to take such dramatic steps as to block power outlets, I am also aware that some customers do not concern themselves with the impact of their behavior on other customers and do not consider the good of the business that so generously provides the electricity and other comforts they enjoy.  I believe Starbucks may have to address this challenge in a more systemic way over time but for now I appreciate that the store managers are trying to find ways to keep the coffeehouse experience from becoming a campground or internet haven.

I was in Hong Kong recently and noted a similar challenge for IKEA’s experience.  While the shopping experience is designed for people to spend ample time perusing merchandise and purchasing items (complete with low cost meals, a supervised child care area, and ample showrooms), I observed people making IKEA into a daylong mini-vacation complete with napping on showroom furniture .  Great brands find effective ways to maximize their optimal experience for as many as they can effectively serve.  As consumer behavior poses challenges, company’s like Starbucks, Panera, and IKEA typically cobble together interim solutions and if needed develop more strategic course corrections.”

What consumer behavior challenges do you face which require solutions to serve that broadest quality experience possible?  How would you solve the “wifi” challenge at Starbucks?

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

1 Comment

  1. Jim Robinson on October 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Well Joseph,
    All I can say is that you were very well “plugged” into that situation. One day 100 years ago
    in Colorado Springs you had a book signing for The Starbucks Experience and I was fortunate
    enough to receive your John Doe and nice inscription. We made a pact that day and I always
    follow through with my pacts. I won’t go into much detail here, but if you need a clue, it has a
    bit to do with publishing. Please send me your mailing address and I will get something out
    to you as soon as I can. Sure miss you out here. Most of the radio hosts are bad to mediocre
    at best. You really put some pizzaz into your broadcasts and that died when you left.
    Take care my friend and have a wonderful fall and holiday season.


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