It’s generally accepted that for most people, home and work are the first two places. For retail establishments like Starbucks and McDonalds (to name just two), the battle to become the most popular 3rd place is never-ending.
I’ve expressed my ambivalence toward Starbucks in past posts. The willingness of people to spend US $4.00 for a cappuccino never ceases to amaze me. Over the weekend I stayed at a Courtyard by Marriott and the brand has been refurbished to include a nice café in the lobby anchored by Starbucks. People were queued up much of the day (I came in and out of the hotel multiple times during the day) waiting to buy their beloved Starbucks.
What amazed me is that thirty feet away the hotel offered ‘free’ regular and decaffeinated coffee (it was good coffee too) that people spurned in favor of paid Starbucks. Talk about your brand acolytes – since when did paid beat free when it comes to something like coffee? Starbucks is ingrained deep into the mindsets of not only Americans but people all over the world. In fact whether you are in North America, Europe or Asia the Starbucks brand is omnipresent and consistent. I’ve not been to South America or Australia but am willing to bet it’s no different in those places.
Yesterday I had a meeting at a Starbucks in New York City since it was more convenient for my associates to meet us near Penn Station. We chose Starbucks because it had free Wi-Fi and we knew there would be tables to sit at and show our presentation. Most of the other people there had laptops or iPads or some other tablet and were busy meeting and working. I noticed that this particular Starbucks had covered up all of the electrical outlets so that people could not recharge their computers (or phones for that matter). I don’t remember having noticed that before but it was obviously done with the intent of limiting the amount of time people could both use the Wi-Fi as well as linger in this 3rd place. There was no limit to how long you had access to the Wi-Fi – something I have experienced in other Starbucks where the user is kicked off after a preset time and has to log-back on.
McDonald’s also offers free Wi-fi (as do many establishments today) but the feeling of sitting in a McDonald’s is discernibly different than at Starbucks. There’s a collective energy in Starbucks that is not easy to replicate.
I will never be a huge Starbucks customer or fan but I respect what the brand represents and how – for better or for worse – it has become the world’s 3rd place.
Do you agree or disagree?