“plugged-in” customers are grabbing extra seats, counter space and
table tops by using cell phones, laptops and cups of steaming hot coffee
to shield others from seemingly public spaces, according to two
marketing professors who’ve studied this brewing consumer clash.
the act of purchasing a cup of coffee emblazoned with the café logo is
enough to give customers territorial rights, which can lead to decreased
space turnover and discouraged customers who can’t find a place to sit,
the researchers found.
a café conundrum, according to marketing professors Merlyn Griffiths,
of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and Mary Gilly, of the
University of California, Irvine, who report on the latest territorial
consumer behavior in the current issue of the Journal of Service Research.
is the premium on space to sit and sip greater than in cafes and coffee
shops, where establishments like Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee and Tea and
Panera Bread have invited their customers to linger a while and enjoy
the atmosphere along with their coffee beverages.
consumers who cross the line through high-tech territoriality are
frustrating other patrons and forcing baristas to post signs limiting
seating time. Some shops go so far as to limit access to Wi-Fi, which
often serves as an anchor for today’s café conquerors, who sit for hours
on end. While some may be oblivious to the needs of others, changing
work habits have created a new class of teleworkers for whom the office
is wherever they can access a wireless signal.
of motivation, this type of customer can be classified as “first
come/first priority” and their behavior can be cast in business terms as
“rent-in-perpetuity”—where a $3.50 café latte effectively buys a
workstation for the afternoon, according to the report.
customers use the devices they have at hand—a laptop, phone, purse,
briefcase, backpack, clothes, daily planner, coffee cup—and place them
all on the table top and chairs surrounding them, effectively
barricading against others looking for a place to sit down and relax. A
single customer can turn a four-person table into a makeshift office.
and Gilly found that café and coffee shop managers have gone so far in
their attempts to control customer territoriality as to post signs
limiting table use, as well as restricting Internet access. For example,
Peet’s Coffee and Tea offers access to Wi-Fi in its stores for a single
hour. Such efforts have met with limited success.
it may take expensive new interior designs and floor plans to
discourage people from sitting down and spreading out their personal
belongings. For managers, ignoring customer territoriality increases the
risk of alienating customers who abide by the rules of common courtesy
and also frustrate employees who are often left sorting out conflicts
over tables and chairs.
arises when consumers who believe that café space should be reserved
for customers to consume café products encounter first come/first
priority or rent-in-perpetuity occupants,” Griffiths and Gilly write in
the Journal of Service Research.
“First, managers must decide what kind of place they want to offer
customers. Then, they must design space in a way that accommodates
different customers’ needs.”
personal technology may be designed to better connect society, an
increasingly plugged-in populace lugging about an ever-expanding number
of personal electronics devices may be struggling more and more with
face-to-face interactions, said Boston College Professor Katherine
Lemon, editor of the Journal of Service Research.
and coffee shops were Facebook for many, many earlier generations –
spaces where people met, talked and kept track of friends and
neighbors,” said Lemon, a marketing professor at the Carroll School of
Management. “What Griffiths and Gilly have found shows our efforts to
connect technologically—anywhere, anytime—can interfere with the common
courtesy we’ve traditionally extended to one another.”
Dibs! Customer Territorial Behaviors
Source: Boston College