Anecdotal evidence probably isn’t indicative of a larger industry-wide trend.
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The Globe and Mail has a story on cafes that are pulling the plug on wi-fi with the goal of improving human interaction between customers. These local, independent cafes are “hoping to create more of a community atmosphere where people talk to each other instead of silently typing on their computers.”
It’s an admirable goal that could be part of the larger trend toward disconnecting and digital detox – the likeliest factor in why e-book sales are tanking – but it probably isn’t happening.
The Globe article cites a “small but growing number” of coffee shops, but doesn’t supply more than anecdotal evidence of the trend. The same isolated reports have been kicking around in the United States and United Kingdom for a couple of a years, but again, none have supplied data.
It’s also important to note, as I mentioned in a recent post, that the number of cafes is multiplying rapidly. Cafes are the fastest growing segment of the global restaurant industry and customers typically expect them to offer wi-fi.
It’s just as likely that cafes are going the other direction with their internet access. A host of new independent cafes in Toronto, for example, are boasting faster and faster speeds, including “100 Mbps of goodness,” in a bid to woo students, mobile office workers and budding authors alike.
Starbucks, meanwhile, switched to Google as its internet provider in the United States a few years ago so that it too could deliver better service to customers.
Despite that, coffee shop owners quoted in the Globe article do have some valid complaints.
Encouraging customers to bury their noses in laptops likely does discourage them from interacting with one another – except for maybe asking what the wi-fi password is – and it also probably encourages them to hang around for long periods of time, which ties up seats.
On the other hand, that’s probably a good thing since actual physical businesses are a lot like websites. Getting people in the door is half the battle, but getting them to stick around for a while is the bigger – and more valuable – challenge.
Non-connected cafes may fill a niche for customers who are tired of never finding an open seat, but for the most part such businesses are only likely to succeed in driving wi-fi-seeking customers to their competitors.