Capital One Attempts to Make Banking Cool with Café

A little more than a year ago I first heard about Capital One’s plan to open several Capital One Cafés in Washington, D.C., and today I drove past their Chinatown location. I have to say, it looks pretty cool!

For those of you wondering what a Capital One Café is, the website says:

Our Cafés are inviting places where you can bank, plan your financial journey, engage with your community, and enjoy Peet’s Coffee®. You don’t have to be a customer.

And here’s the snazzy video ad: 

Back when I first heard this news, several of my friends and I debated the merits of the idea and today I sent the group a picture of the real-deal Capital One Café, reigniting the debate.

Some thought that a bank opening a coffee shop with free-WiFi was just another dumb, gimmicky marketing ploy aimed at younger generations, which is understandable skepticism as it seems very clear that Capital One has realized it needs to give people — particularly younger generations — more reasons to stop by retail locations besides just boring old banking.

I do understand the skeptics’ viewpoint: who wants to hang out at a bank? Does Capital One actually think that hoards of people will go there to hang out for Peet’s Coffee & free WiFi instead of the nearest Starbucks? And of those who do, how many are actually going to convert to new customers? They seem to think so.

And I do too! In my opinion, Capital One is really thinking outside the box here and I love it. They realize that “going to the bank” is fast becoming a thing of the past. Gone are the days of the “friendly neighborhood branch,” replaced by the ability to deposit a check with your iPhone camera. 

How many times have you been to a bank in the last decade? I can probably count it with my fingers and toes. It’s no wonder that big banks are shuttering their branches at a faster clip than ever before, and something has to change. It appears Capital One is banking on its Cafés with free WiFi, coffee, and pastries to develop brand loyalty that can then convert to new customer acquisition.

It’s a big bet, but one worth placing, all things considered. After all, Starbucks has already proven that if you build it (free WiFi access), they will come. I’ve spent many a full morning or afternoon just hanging out doing work, and yes, I absolutely consume more coffee while there than I would otherwise. I also probably have a stronger affinity for Starbucks as a brand because they are giving me something valuable for free in exchange for my $3 Americano.

Amazon is another great example of a company that does an exceptional job developing enough brand loyalty through a number of its valuable services to generate significant interest in new lines of business. In fact, 2/3 of Amazon Prime members would reportedly consider opening bank accounts with Amazon. I’m one of them. 

As someone who works from home a few days a week but kind of goes stir crazy after a few hours, the option to go to a public place with free WiFi is certainly appealing, and although I have yet to visit a Capital One Café, I would most certainly do so if there was one close to me. 

What do you think? Can Capital One Café keep retail banking relevant in a digital age? Or is this a crazy experiment that is unlikely to succeed? 

Leave your thoughts in the comments! 

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