Will Starbucks Gain an Edge with Wireless Charging?

Jul 31, 2013

One thing about smartphones, regardless of brand, is that they all need to be charged. A new trial of phone charging mats at Starbucks — tested in Boston and being rolled out to others in San Jose — suggests that the coffee chain sees this as an opportunity to draw and keep more people in its shops for longer periods of time.

"More and more customers are using Starbucks as their home base and they are looking to recharge in a number of ways," Adam Brotman, chief digital officer, Starbucks Coffee Company, told the New York Daily News. "We have seen positive customer response to wireless charging through our tests in Boston, and are pleased to now extend this experience for our customers in the Silicon Valley area."

A report by AllThingsD says Starbucks is looking to gain an advantage with wireless charging similarly to what it did with Wi-Fi in its stores more than 10 years ago.

The chain’s support of the Duracell Powermat, which operates on one of three competing standards for charging wireless devices recognized by the Power Matters Alliance (PMA), could also influence whatever becomes the most popular alternative going forward. PMA is backed by Google and a number of smartphone makers.

[Image: Wireless Charging

"One hurdle to be overcome: in order for the technology to work, a "charging sleeve" is required for each phone. For the trial, frequent customers in the area were provided with free sleeves."

Mr. Brotman, chief digital officer at Starbucks, said the chain isn’t ready to back a single standard at this point in time.

"It was our first and best guess in terms of the right format," he told AllThingsD. "It is a great testing partnership, and it could get much bigger than this, but we are going to wait and see how the tests go."

What role will wireless charging play in retail and foodservice strategies in the years ahead? Do you see it as important a service as the availability of Wi-Fi? Does Starbucks gain any advantage with its test?

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23 Comments on "Will Starbucks Gain an Edge with Wireless Charging?"

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Ken Lonyai

Anything that enhances user experience is clearly a good idea. However, in this scenario, a “charging sleeve” is an impediment to achieving that end. It’s likely to be a slow adoption rate if customers are expected to go out and buy a charging sleeve just to get the benefit while visiting Starbucks. Duracell, more than latte drinkers, seems to have the biggest opportunity for gain.

In general, free charging is an untapped market and that may be because it’s not without hassles for users. Charging sleeves or kiosks where devices must be left unattended, do not make for a passive or easy experience. When devices have the capability baked-in, user adoption will soar, but then most places that have seated dwell time (coffee shops, restaurants, barber chairs, etc.) will offer the service and no one will get a big advantage over competitors.

Tony Orlando

How long does Starbucks want to keep their customers inside the store? How many cups of coffee can you drink, before you are taking up space, and others cannot sit down, because you’re charging up your phone?

What am I missing here? Just asking, not trying to be smarmy, but I want turnover in my coffee shop, especially during busy times, and if customers are charging their phones while drinking a cup of coffee, what benefit is it to leaving space for others who want to camp out inside? God I am getting old, as this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

David Livingston
4 years 18 days ago

I’m seeing this more and more all over the country. Even the newer cars have extra outlets now and USB ports. Starbucks isn’t really gaining an advantage since their competitors are doing much the same. They are just keeping up. Still, I will most likely just sit in my car at the Starbucks parking lot and mooch their WiFi.

Bob Phibbs

It is an interesting story. 90% of Americans consume coffee before 11 AM. This opportunity seems more inclined to work for people who are just almost out of power.

The frequent frustration is one guy sitting at a table for four. It seems
counter intuitive to encourage people to stay at the tables longer. I don’t think this gets Starbucks more customers; maybe a bit more convenience, like offering Splenda.

Adrian Weidmann

None of these devices work without power. Offering battery charging services work hand-in-hand with WiFi. Many of us actively seek out Starbucks because of its environment, locations, and WiFi. Adding the ability to charge our devices and get a cup of coffee is an obvious and natural progression in the expectations of customers.

Starbucks has accepted and committed to serving this customer base and further leverages their brick and mortar stores as a ‘destination’. Starbucks’ advantage lies in the fact that they continue to build brand loyalty and extend their customer service. Others can watch customers gather at Starbucks, wishing all those folks would be sitting in their establishments.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Terrific move by Starbucks. A lesson for all marketers: solve customers’ problems and they will solve your problem. Technology today, at least, requires regular recharging of all such devices. Therefore, the Starbucks initiative is a solution that may act as a tiebreaker by customers when they select their next visit to a coffee shop.

David Biernbaum

The ability to re-charge inside the store sounds very appealing except that Starbucks has always had issues with folks hanging around and occupying the seats and tables for too long. So for that reason I’m not sure I love this idea.

Jason Goldberg

I’m a fan of this move. It’s another affordance that makes Starbucks an appealing 3rd place. As these mobile devices have become a mission critical part of our persona (which will only increase as the devices become wearable, etc.) keeping them charged is at least as important as keeping fuel in our cars. Starbucks has a chance to be the “gas station” for our personal lives.

I’m not sure the Qi charging standard is the long-term solution (and it has major ecological concerns that aren’t exactly in-brand for Starbucks).

Tim S
4 years 18 days ago

I am with Mr. Orlando on this; seems like just last year they were trying to minimize “camping” in their stores. I rarely go to SBX but when I do, it is for an informal offsite meeting. If they are full, we go elsewhere.

Ed Rosenbaum

The idea is good. My question is, how long are we looking to keep the customer inside the store? The seating is limited and turnover is what keeps the cash register jumping.
Then I think longer and still see it as good. I doubt those with need for charging will not stay much longer than they normally do once the charge is complete.

Bill Hanifin

Electricity is the water of the new age. Think about what you miss if you have no power. Starbucks is brilliant to be one of the leaders in raising awareness of this benefit and that is the key takeaway for me from this news.

Beyond the visionary approach Starbucks is taking here, there are operational challenges and executional headaches ahead. Once concern would be that “non-buying” consumers could crowd the stores seeking juice for their phones.

I bet it is no surprise to anyone that I would have recommended positioning this benefit as a perk to Gold members of the My Starbucks program. In this way, the benefit could be tested and participation limited to more valuable customers.

There are operational headaches here as well, but the idea is more targeted than opening it up to the public.

gordon arnold

This idea just might make a visit to Starbucks a whole new experience. No more stumbling over wires all over the floor to get in and out, that’s for sure. Now Starbucks is about to evolve to takeout only for the entire day and night. Simply because the one cup of coffee and stay forever crowd can really stay forever without creating a safety hazard. That is, of course, unless you think the lines to get a seat are going to be a safety hazard or impedance to paying customers. Good idea, I’m not so sure.

Doug Fleener

I like the idea of helping customers charge up the most important device in their life, but it seems the wireless approach is too cumbersome. I don’t see this going mainstream until it is designed into the phone.

With that said, why not just build USB outlets into the tables and/or provide cables? I’m in a Hampton Hotel and finally someone has added a charging device bedside. It has two electrical outlets, a standard USB outlet, and another for tablet. Brilliant. No more having to move the bed to find an outlet. It’s simple and it exceeds my expectations.

Joan Treistman

Wireless charging is another way to capture consumer love. I mean what’s not to love when you’re about to run out of “bars” and you are stress free because you can stand still and charge. It’s probably not going to have the same long term impact as Wi-Fi availability because it’s more impromptu. But it will assuredly buy good feeling and perhaps additional visits. Starbucks’ testing will help others determine if this is a good idea for their business.

Phil Rubin
4 years 18 days ago

First there was wireless. Then there was charging. Seems natural and similar to what Urban Outfitters is testing in looking for ways to enhance the customer experience not just via technology, but through enabling technology.

There is a real advantage to Starbucks testing this and that is what it will learn, whether this is effective or not. Much as bandwidth (wireless data access) is an increasingly valuable commodity, so is electricity, naturally.

Vahe Katros

If it works once or twice, it will create a very grateful customer. Now how about a pair of 150 reading glasses in case I forget!

Lee Kent

It’s just another service that will help the consumer decide where to spend their bucks. (Pun intended.)

This is not about dwell time in the store, it is about options. I am planning a quick business meeting over coffee, my phone is almost dead, oh I know, I’ll go to Starbucks! ‘Nuf said!

Craig Sundstrom

Perhaps next up will be dry cleaning? Or shoe shining? (Assuming there are still people who don’t wear flip flops.) I’m guessing SBX knows how many people will use this, and the number of freeloaders—quite literally—is small enough so as not to worry, otherwise I’m with Tony and Oscar on this. Or perhaps it’s just another press release the marketing department issued to get their name in the news…again, it seems to have done that.

Shep Hyken

Starbucks found another opportunity to enhance the customer’s experience—and they seized it! Good for them.

Anytime you can add a positive touch point to the customer experience is good. Be it Wi-Fi, wireless charging, comfortable chairs, big screen TVs… It’s all good. The key is to make sure the customer wants and appreciates it.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
4 years 18 days ago

Charging still takes time, and I am not sure customers are in a Starbucks long enough to really get any real benefit. Although Starbucks can be a place to work and meet, it tends to still be an in and out solution for most due to the lack of seating.

I think the service would be a better draw for locations where consumers tend to spend more time. Examples might be local gyms and workout centers, sit down restaurants, country clubs, and tennis facilities.

Regardless of how this test turns out, Starbucks received a tremendous amount of media exposure around the test and that alone is worth something.

Timothy Schulke
Timothy Schulke
4 years 18 days ago

It is brilliant! Independent of the usage factor, it sends a message to the Starbucks customer of being a user-friendly environment, both personally and professionally, for their customer.

Kai Clarke

The charging sleeve requirements are a difficult cost to overcome. Actually, just providing simple wired charging plugs with mini USB and iPhone connectors will handle 99% of the phones out there while not requiring anything special or unique. Providing charging access points are more important than making these “wireless.”

Rev. Tim George
Rev. Tim George
4 years 12 days ago

Kudos to Starbucks for taking advantage of the technology, and providing it to their customers. This keeps Starbucks relevant in the twenty first century. Silicon Valley is merging a very good relationship with Starbucks by facilitating this service. Since smart phones always need to be charged, this should make Starbucks one of the first choices for consumers to go to charge their smart phones.


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