Industry sector:

Internet cafe: Market research

Estimating demand

It's very important to make sure that there will be enough local demand for your internet cafe. First of all check out any possible competitors to find out how many establishments offer public internet access in your area. Bear in mind that these might also include libraries, universities and colleges that allow public access, as well as other internet cafes. Try to find out as much as you can about how competing internet cafés operate (if there are any in your area). For example:

  • what their opening hours are
  • the speed of their internet connection
  • what software and games are available for customer use
  • whether food and drinks are sold and, if so, on what scale
  • what is the level of computing service they offer
  • how helpful and knowledgeable their staff are
  • whether their premises and fittings are modern and smart
  • what other services they offer

You may find that your area appears to be undersupplied with only a small number of existing internet cafés, or none at all. If this is the case give some thought to why this might be. For example, there may be many local colleges providing free internet connections in students' rooms (to be used with the student's own computer) as well as free WiFi in shared areas or wired internet access from a number of terminals, or your area does not attract large numbers of foreign visitors (traditionally an important market) or does not have large expat communities (also an important market). Don't forget of course that a large proportion of this customer base will also have internet access from a smartphone data plan. Nevertheless, you may feel that regardless of the level of competition and the changes in the way that people go online, your business will succeed because it will offer a mix of services not provided by anyone else.

Target markets

It is a good idea to check out whether your local catchment area contains enough of the type of customer you will be targeting. For example:

  • is there a college and/or student accommodation close by - while students may not use your facilities for general internet access, people in this age group are often keen gamers
  • do foreign visitors come to the area - or are there established communities of people from other countries, such as eastern Europeans. You might be able to get an idea of this by looking at local shops. For example there might be a number of Polish food shops
  • are there residential developments housing the older generation near by (older people may be keen to take introductory computing classes or need some help to go online)

Although you are likely to have many customers who will arrive on foot, you may also hope to attract people from a distance, especially if you offer something that is not widely available, such as a very quick, uncontended internet connection through a leased line that will allow incident-free gameplay. If so, it is worth considering whether:

  • the area is well served by public transport
  • there is ample parking near by
  • the area is considered safe in which to leave a vehicle, particularly if you are planning to offer gaming sessions during the evening and night time

As well as the members of the public that you have targeted as potential customers for your internet, gaming and computing services, you may also aim to attract passersby to stop just for food or drink. If this is the case, try to ensure that these potential customers are made aware that they can buy food and drink without having to also pay for computer time, possibly by placing signs in your window or on the pavement outside your café.

Why will customers choose your café

There are various strategies that you could use to try to attract customers to your café. These might include offering:

  • competitive and user-friendly charging (for example allowing customers to carry over unused minutes to the next session)
  • a range of food and drink that your customers want
  • an atmosphere where people from all age groups will feel equally comfortable
  • excellent hardware and software
  • the fastest possible internet connection
  • convenient opening hours
  • helpful and knowledgeable staff
  • a full range of extra computing services, such as training courses and computer repairs
  • other related services like scanning or photo printing
  • a welcoming exterior and a relaxing interior - gamers in particular will stay for several hours so you'll probably need to provide them with very comfortable chairs

Find out what people want

Talking to potential customers before you open your business can save you from making wrong moves. For example you could try to establish:

  • what the ideal split of PCs and Macs would be
  • what range of services - if any - that local business people would be likely to use
  • which games are the most popular and how regularly you would need to renew them
  • what opening hours would suit customers best. For example, retired people may typically use the café during the day whereas gamers may want to play throughout the night, especially if they have to fit it in around work or education
  • whether they would prefer you to have a licence to serve alcoholic drinks
  • what, if anything, don't they like about existing internet cafes and public access facilities in the area
  • how much they are willing to pay and what pricing system would work best

Use the Record sheets to help you with this aspect of your market research.