Starbucks, Coffee Bean, and Giving Things Away for Free

Kuala Lumpur
Photo Credit: wili_hybrid

This recent months, I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur on business a number of times. Everytime I make a trip to KL, I would have appointments, and I have pockets of time between appointments where I am free to roam around, or choose to sit down in a cafe and work.

Not being much of a shopper, I tend to spend more time in front of my computer in a cafe. I’ve been scouting around for the best “camping ground” where I can sit and work.

So, there is Coffee Bean and there is Starbucks. Both provide free wireless Internet access. Let’s talk about Coffee Bean first.

Coffee Bean: Buy from us and get Internet access

In Coffee Bean cafes, they have secured their wireless network.

In order to access the Internet, I will have to ask the counter staff for a username and password. Most of the time, there was also no power supply points, and I’d have to dim my laptop screen and squint my eyes at the display.

My supposition is of Coffee Bean’s perspective in providing wireless access is “This is a Coffee Place, if you buy a drink from us and ask for the Internet access, we will let you have it, but don’t work for too long, because this is a COFFEE place, not your workplace.”

Starbucks: Free Internet Access, No Strings Attached

Starbucks Coffee with Free Wireless Access
Photo Credit: Al-Hayat

Starbucks, on the other hand, has an unsecured network and you can just get connected easily. So technically, you could sit in the cafe next door and tap on Starbucks’ wireless access. When you access the network, you are shown an quick video ad, which you can choose to skip after a few seconds.

I can also easily find tables where power supply is available, and I don’t worry about expending my battery.

My feel of Starbucks’ take on Internet access is “This is a coffee place, and a place for you to hang out and chill, work, with free Internet access for you to enjoy. While you do so, get some coffee to go with.”

The Difference

Of my six trips so far, I’ve been to Coffee Bean twice. Once I knew how easy it is for me to get online in Starbucks, I never stepped into Coffee Bean again.

And while I have spent hours and hours in Starbucks, I’m not surfing all the time, and neither am I always hungry for a power socket. But I’ve had a lot of my meals there – trying out their variety of delicious sandwiches and awesome coffee. When I make arrangements to meet my clients, I ask that we meet at Starbucks, because there is convenient Internet access and power supply.

So as far as having me as a customer, Starbucks has been a lot more profitable.

Why do I bring this up?

Coffee Bean assumed that “people will steal our bandwidth if we don’t secure it”. They were selling coffee first, ambience second.

Starbucks didn’t. Starbucks knew there were people like me who are dying for free Internet access and power supply, and they gave it to me. They obviously knew that a key motivation for people to sit in coffee places is an environment to hang out, and they’ve perfected that experience for the customer.

Frankly, even if they charged RM5 more per cup of coffee, I’d still have stuck to Starbucks.

Give away things for FREE

Giving things away for free can make a difference… sometime a huge difference. In many cases, the more you give out for free, the more you will get back as loyal happy customers.

This post was writtin with a dimly lit screen at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. My battery is running low now, and while there are several cafes in KLIA, I haven’t found one with power supply.

In fact, I was once “tricked” into having a meal in the KFC restaurant here, only to find that the power socket has no power.

No way I’m going back there.

I am heading to Dunkin’ Donuts in LCC Terminal, where they have both Internet access and power (and great service too!), and while I’m there, I’m going to get a coffee… and maybe some of their awesome donuts or sandwiches too.

Get the point? 😉


  1. Now, I know where to go in KL to access free Internet, charge up my laptop battery and have a coffee…

    – Starbuck
    – Dunkin’ Donuts


  2. Nice one, though i think the policy in terms of giving internet access free and having power points available is probably decided by whomever owns franchise rights in that country.

    I live in Sri Lanka and the coffee beans’ here have open internet access and power points. So its unlikely to be ALL the coffee beans’ though i am not saying that you implied so.

  3. Interesting perspective, though when you look at it from the owner or operator, they are going to want to have a maximum turnover on their seats to get the highest revenue possible.
    A strategy I’d use would be to give away internet for free when there’s lots of seats available and restrict or even charge for internet access when you need more available seats.

  4. I really liked your post. I couldn’t agree more! The more you give, the more you get! Going to Starbucks is great, I love the cooffe and he place. Here in São Paulo (Brazil) you also have free internet access!

  5. Thanks for the post. I needed to meet some folks and there is a Coffee Bean with a small meeting room nearby, so i was looking for just this answer. I guess the 7 of us will crowd into a Sbux and have our meeting there b/c I want internet access, not hassles.