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Starbucks working with Yahoo to offer website with coffee shop's own content

August 13, 2010 | 10:58 am

Starbucks Inc., hoping to leverage its recent decision to offer free Wi-Fi at its stores, is working with Yahoo Inc. to create a website that would be customized for each location.

In addition to The New York Times, USA Today, Yahoo and Zagat, Starbucks announced on Thursday that publisher Rodale, Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. Boost and online charity DonorsChoose.org will also be contributing content providers for its Starbucks Digital Network. The website is expected to go live this fall.

Customers who access the Internet at Starbucks will encounter the website first before they can surf the web. Starbucks began offering unlimited, free Internet access last month at all 6,800 U.S. company-operated stores.

If customers opt to stay on Starbucks' home page, they'll have access to things such as free iTunes downloads and content on paid sites such as the Wall Street Journal. There’s also an optional "sign in" to the MyStarbucks account, a Yahoo search box and six channels of topics---news, entertainment, wellness, business and career, my neighborhood, Starbucks -- based on localized content for that store’s neighborhood.

“Because we know what store you’re in, we can give you hyper-local news,” said Adam Brotman, vice president of the Starbucks unit that oversees the company’s digital ventures. “We want to provide something of value they can’t get anywhere else.”

In the "My Neighborhood" channel, for example, users can connect with and donate to local charities, and the "Wellness" section will show maps of local running and biking trails that, of course, highlight nearby Starbucks locations along the way.

Other businesses have already tapped into such content-specific networks. Barnes & Noble, Inc., for example, offers a special Wi-Fi network for its Nook e-readers where users have access to special content while in one of its stores.

And then there’s Gogo Inflight Internet, which partners with nine airlines to give passengers free access to the Wall Street Journal and Frommer’s Travel Guides -- after paying a fee starting at $5.

But Ross Rubin, analyst at NPD Group, said Starbucks' network would be unique because it would not be restricted to a specific device or content.

And to the best of his knowledge, Rubin said, Starbucks is the first of any coffee shop to do this.

“They certainly have the impact and the national footprint to enable it on a scale that would be difficult to match by any other coffee chain,” Rubin said.

The Seattle-based company's move last month to launch its unlimited, free Wi-Fi access last month came at a time when many other coffee shops in the industry are now charging for service or taking it away altogether to prevent some customers from setting up their home offices in the stores.

Yahoo, the network's host, also benefits because it’s a strategic move in creating its own identity apart from rivals Google and Bing. Rubin said he wouldn’t be surprised if other Internet search companies such as MSN followed in Yahoo’s footsteps.

“The partnership represents a source of distribution for Yahoo and an opportunity for them to own the front door of the digital experience,” Rubin said.

--Kristena Hansen


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