17 August 2012Ian Woosey
To free Wi-Fi or not to free Wi-Fi? That is the latest question being asked by retailers. And the question of whether or not to offer customers free Wi-Fi in-store raises some interesting business and technical issues.
1. What is your business aim? On the business side, the first challenge is what you are trying to achieve. Wi-Fi makes sense in a coffee shop; it becomes part of the overall proposition: customers will have a drink, stay to check their e-mail and leave refreshed and up to date, having had a great customer experience.
2. What are customers likely to do? Retailers need to consider what their customers will do with the free Wi-Fi in their stores. Many retailers remain scared that customers will check prices online, using the store simply to inspect the product before going online to a competitor to make the purchase. That reaction doesn’t say a lot about the retailer’s confidence in their own proposition though, does it?
3. What if customers DO check out your site? If you are going to encourage customers to go online, where are you sending them ? You obviously want them to visit your own website, but what does it look to the mobile viewer? Try viewing your site on a smartphone. Or, better still, try and BUY something on your site using a smartphone. Are you sure you want to send your customers there? If you don’t already have one, you need a mobile-optimised site.
4. Can your online complement your in-store? Price comparison is an obvious tool customers can use, but you can enhance the in-store experience enormously. Adding a Quick Response code (QR code) to point-of-sale materials can allow customers access to enriched content about the products they are looking at, including: specifications, offers, reviews, video and imagery. Try doing all that on a poster!
5. Could online capacity equal more storage space? With a mobile-optimised site and access to Wi-Fi, the dreaded ‘out of stock’ problem disappears. Product not on the shelf? Don’t worry, customers can simply scan a QR code to buy and you can deliver for free. Small store? Not anymore: everything is available, all the time.
6. Can your site be a mobile sales catalogue? How about telling customers what is on offer when they enter the store? Do you know when customers have been in-store? Which stores convert visits into sales? Find out, and make sure your solution comes with decent reporting and analytics.
So, you’ve suggested free Wi-Fi and your IT guys have kicked up a stink about clogging up the network, bandwidth, security and compromising Payment Card Industry compliance and costs? Sadly, these are all valid concerns you ignore at your peril.
- Allowing public access to existing integrated Wi-Fi used by in-store electronic point of sale and hand-held terminals is a definite ‘no no’.
- The best alternative is a separate broadband connection straight to the internet that goes nowhere near your own network. All IT concerns solved. Simple, but because it means new phone lines into your store, separate routers and wireless access points, it can be costly.
- You may think providing Wi-Fi is just too expensive, but then what is the value of the printed point of sale material that you dispose of each month in every store?
- Should you be starting to look at Wi-Fi as a crucial part of your in-store marketing budget. You wouldn’t open a store without lights (unless you are hip, US fashion chain, Hollister, of course!) but nobody measures the return on investment for that.
- Maybe Wi-Fi is just another cost of doing business. Or maybe your supplier will fund it for you to increase their online traffic. There are deals to be done out there, that is for sure.
Whatever issues are applicable to your store, it is worth thinking about this: If there is one store offering Wi-Fi and all the above and a store next door that doesn’t, which one do you think tomorrow’s shopper will choose?
I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences, post your comments below.
Ian joined Summit in 2012 and brings with him over 25 years senior retail management experience. His aim is to help businesses unlock their potential, improve operational performance and drive growth.