Branding, Uncategorized

Captive consumers are bad for goodwill

What is it with malls and high-end hotels who still want you to pay exorbitantly for wifi access?

So, I’m at the West Edmonton Mall (WEM) today thinking I can get some work done at Starbucks before my Apple Genius Bar appointment. But WEM charges almost $9 for 3 hours of wifi access. They’ve even forbidden Starbucks from offering their FREE wifi at the Starbucks store in the mall. (Starbucks has the right idea when it comes to promoting their free wifi – “it’s just part of being neighbourly” they say.)

This really irks me – both because it’s inconvenient and seems so shortsighted.

Off the top of my head, here are three reasons why I think charging for wifi access in this situation is dumb:

1. I resent being a captive consumer – it’s like being held hostage for a business transaction. WEM is using their control over the mall to coerce me into paying more for something I can get for less somewhere else – not unlike popcorn and pop sales at the movies (but don’t get me started). WEM gets their $9, but I build up a resentment for being strong-armed into paying it. Great brand-building strategy, eh.

2. I will no longer consider the mall when thinking about where I can get a few hours of work done. There are actually a few nice spots to work there – and just think about the possibilities if they designed desirable remote work spaces throughout the mall. Plus, all the services are conveniently located right there. But alas, I can find another place that’s more conducive to my needs (i.e., free wifi and good coffee). Meanwhile, WEM’s merchants lose the extra business that might come from my traffic – and others like me.

3. And then there’s the social opportunities missed by this shortsightedness. Think what free wifi and location-based contests could do for the mall and it’s merchants – special offers and custom badges on Foursquare, location-based games and prizes on SCVNGR, the check-in frenzy that would result on Yelp. Nevermind, WEM would rather get their $9 out of my pocket.

Similar arguments can be made for the high-end hotel industry, where I get charged daily rates of $10-20 to connect with wifi in my room. Whereas, if I choose to slum it at the Super 8, the wifi is free.

Captive marketing and price gouging. Good business strategy? Not if you care about your brand’s goodwill among consumers.


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