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Starbucks Goes High-Tech

Starbucks will soon be offering free Wi-Fi access to its U.S. customers, followed later in the year by the launch of a dedicated digital content portal.

NEW YORK (TheStreet ) -- Starting July 1, Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Report will be offering free Wi-Fi access to its U.S. customers, followed later in the year by the launch of a dedicated digital content portal. The portal, to be developed in partnership with Yahoo! (YHOO) , will provide customized news and entertainment content for Starbucks' customers.

These initiatives from Starbucks are designed to increase customer traffic and spending at Starbucks locations by providing extra value to consumers. It also helps Starbucks to better compete with rivals like


(MCD) - Get Report

and local coffee shops that already provide free Wi-Fi access.

Revival in Customer Traffic Important for Starbucks

Daily customer traffic at Starbucks stores has dipped in recent years due to a combination of Starbucks' over expansion (leading to cannibalization) and rising competition in premium coffees. The closure of more than 900 loss-making Starbucks stores over the last two years helped the company to curb further declines in its daily per store customer traffic.

The recessionary environment led consumers to lower priced coffee makers (like McDonald's) and as the economy rebounds, Starbucks is introducing new initiatives to lure back former customers. With McDonald's already providing free Wi-Fi at its more than 11,500 U.S. outlets, the introduction of free Wi-Fi at Starbucks locations was a necessary move.

Opportunity to Increase Spend on Beverages and Food

Free Wi-Fi will also encourage visitors to linger longer at Starbucks stores which could have a positive impact on the average customer spend on food and beverages. Although only a fraction of Starbucks customers stay in the store after their purchase, a higher spend by these customers can help overall customer spend improve.

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Starbucks Digital Network Helps Starbucks Retain a Premium Brand

In addition to free Wi-Fi, Starbucks is introducing the Starbucks Digital Network which will include free access to paid content such as news from the

Wall Street Journal

, reviews from Zagat and music from iTunes. The network will also feature local area news and updates on local activities that will help Starbucks to better appeal to its community.

Such features will help Starbucks revive its premium image which has been challenged in recent years by the proliferation of premium coffees at other venues.

You can see the complete

$24 Trefis Price estimate for Starbucks' stock here.


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