Starbucks (SBUX) is taking a tip from its users and designing its upcoming Web landing portal, Starbucks Digital Network, to be optimized first for mobile devices instead of traditional Web browsers.
Adam Brotman, vice-president for digital ventures at Starbucks, spoke at the Think Mobile conference today, emphasizing how the new site will shine on smartphones and tablets, which account for the vast majority of connections to Starbucks' free Wi-Fi network. Brotman explained how the site will be built in HTML5, will respond to touch and swipes, and will be optimized first for iOS (AAPL), Android (GOOG), and BlackBerry (RIMM) devices. This is a huge change from companies that traditionally optimize their websites for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer (MSFT) and expect users to view them on a PC or laptop.
Brotman said the site will rely heavily on moving tiles that will create a touch-friendly experience, and it will integrate with mobile services such as Foursquare. "Our customers have told us they want this to be mobile," Brotman said in an interview. "We spent a lot of time on visual design, asking how do we design a site that felt like a tablet or phone in a good way, even when it's on a laptop."
Much Free Content
The site, which is triggered when users access Starbucks' free Wi-Fi network, is being developed in partnership with Yahoo! (YHOO) and will support a wide array of localized and premium content, such as free iTunes downloads, free Wall Street Journal (NWS) access, book previews, local Patch.com (AOL) stories, and content from Nickelodeon (VIA), Men's Health, and others. Brotman said Foursquare will offer check-ins from the landing page, which means users won't have to use their mobile app for check-ins but can rely on the Starbucks portal. This will allow people who have laptops or non-GPS computing devices to check in at Starbucks. Brotman said. Starbucks has been a major destination for Foursquare users in particular, with 2.25 million check-ins to date, the most for any company.
Users who have their iPhone myStarbucks app open in the store will get alerts when they use Wi-Fi to notify them about the Starbucks Digital Network. Starbucks is also weighing whether to offer mobile ordering of drinks and mobile coupons, two things customers have asked for. Brotman said tailoring the experience to mobile users makes sense, because more and more users will be accessing the Wi-Fi network from smaller devices. He said the company, however, will avoid displaying advertising on the site, hoping instead to make money promoting content from partners.
"We really don't want to interrupt the experience, but we want to be integrated in a way that just feels right," Brotman said.
The network is a bit of a no-brainer, considering all the work that Starbucks has invested in Wi-Fi. Starbucks' free Wi-Fi has proven popular with users, with 30 million log-ins in August. Having a relationship with users and immediate access to them each time they log on has a lot of value and is something the company should have tried to capitalize on a while ago. It's a good sign that Starbucks isn't just settling for a website but is really looking to cater to its customers and how they're connecting, which could lead to even more squatting by laptop users and mobile users lingering longer than they did before. But it's a good example of a company figuring out how to deepen its relationship with users, especially through mobile, rightly understanding that it doesn't have to stop at just a latte and some in-store music.
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