I don’t think it’s a very daring statement to say that Starbucks is more than a hot beverage company. Even though they sell more than 2 billion cups of coffee per year, I think the name means more to the average Joe (yes, pun very much intended). I mean, they just bought La Boulange for a $100 million dollars and now you see the San Francisco brand popping up everywhere you see a Starbucks, but I wouldn’t consider them a bakery. They own their own record label that sells millions of records each year for such artists such as Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Elvis Costello, and no, I wouldn’t consider them a music company either. Then what kind of company is Starbucks? Well, maybe they’re a little of all of these, but I’d like to add one more: they’re a technology company.
Just look around the place next time you’re there if you don’t believe me. That’s not some simple coffee machine pumping out your latte back there. The barista looks more like airplane pilot at the helm of a coffee mainframe. Starbucks was also the pioneer of enabling payment via smartphones and can anyone deny that the days of carrying your wallet are numbered? And several years ago they launched the “My Starbucks Idea” website, considered one of the best examples of crowdsourcing. So why is it so hard to imagine Starbucks being the next launch pad for technology brands?
The other day I visited my local Starbucks and noticed something very interesting. There were wireless phone chargers on all of the tabletops, with cups holding free to use adapters. You simply plugged one of these into your phone and placed it on these flat, hockey puck-sized panels and voila, you were wirelessly charging your cell phone. It is a brilliant idea, seeing that every outlet in the joint was taken up by laptops. Then it hit me; these were Powermat branded chargers. Some of you might remember Powermat launched a very loud campaign in Best Buy a few years ago and the reception was a little chilly, to say the least. Wireless charging was slow and required that you house your elegant smart phone in a large case that made you feel like you were using one of those brick-sized Motorola phones from the 80s. Well, I might be exaggerating for entertainment’s sake, but the Powermat cases were too big and ultimately the idea quietly went away. And now here they were in Starbucks.
It’s a perfect technology for the power outlet-challenged Starbucks environment, and a brilliant way to relaunch the Powermat brand. Powermat gets to piggyback on the credibility of Starbucks and re-approach the public in a whole new way, through experience. Starbucks gets to pass on the technology’s benefits to their customers and everyone wins.
Now, Powermat is not the only player in the wireless charging space, but massive exposure like this is going to be hard to beat. Just consider the reach Starbucks has with 21,160 stores in 63 countries, including 12,067 in the US alone. For comparison, Best Buy has about 1,200 US storefronts. The average Starbucks customer goes into Starbucks 6 times per month, so if this program goes worldwide the Powermat solution will undoubtedly be the victor. So, when you see Powermat products selling successfully at retail again, in the near future, it will be Starbucks (the technology launch pad) that deserves to get the credit.