The coffee giant recently announced plans to integrate wireless phone charging technology into 7,500 locations over the next several years. Are they simply adding an amenity, or savvily tapping into our deep emotional need to stay connected to our phones?


I continue to be immensely proud of my local pub for installing electric outlets at knee level all around the bar. I’ve nodded in quiet approval at restaurants/bars that have a universal charging station available.

Then Starbucks did this…

The coffee giant recently announced plans to integrate Powermat wireless phone charging technology into their store accommodations—in a national rollout expected to reach 100,000 units in 7,500 locations over the next several years.

What’s that? It’s essentially a small mat you can set your phone on, allowing you simultaneously top off your charge while getting your caffeine fix. The catch: due in-part to yet-unsettled standards for wireless charging, only a few phones currently have this technology built in. For the time being, the rest of us will have to purchase a charging case or ring to take advantage.

Indeed this isn’t foodservice’s first foray into the concept, with Coffee Bean and McDonalds already entering the arena, but it’s certainly the biggest push to date by far. And this certainly begs the question: Will this initiative move the bar for the digital amenities customers expect?

Here’s something else to think about…

While it’s certainly fair to call it an amenity, creating easy access to chargers could be tapping into a more fundamental need we humans have developed in fairly recent history. Courtesy of the Internet, Smartphones, Facebook, and the long list you already know, folks increasingly feel a desperate need to stay connected.

In fact—with phones—there’s a word for it... Nomophobia: the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. And a 2012 study by SecurEnvoy found that 66% of participants suffer from this phenomenon.

Equally compelling, a different 2012 report by Lookout does a great job of breaking down what they call “the mobile mindset.” And it serves up some stats to which many of us can relate, including:

  •  We constantly connect. Nearly 60% said they don’t go an hour without checking their phone.
     Younger folks were the most addicted: 63% of women and 73% of men ages 18-34 say they don’t
     go an hour without checking their phones.

  •  Our connection never sleeps. 54% said they check their phones while lying in bed: before they
     go to sleep, after they wake up, even in the middle of the night.

  •  30% admitted that they check their phones during a meal with others.

 - Lookout Mobile Mindset Study, June 2012


What the customer wants needs

Now, if the case for our cell phone attachment is even half as strong as it seems, Starbucks is not simply throwing us a bone, but fullfilling AND tapping into a deep emotional need. If a customer runs out of battery and nomophobia sets in, will they stick around and buy a scone or move on because there’s a charger in the car?

Personally, when my phone runs out of battery, I don’t believe I’m (yet) subject to the extreme emotions some respondents in these studies reported—but I sure do get annoyed.

Is Starbucks ushering us into a world where I don’t have to carry my phone charger knotted up in my coat pocket? I hope so… Will/should other operations follow suit to assuage our collective, growing nomophobia? Comments below…