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Embrace In-Store Wi-Fi and Surf the Wave of Change in Retail

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For the vast majority of retailers, providing a highly personal level of service is what distinguishes them from the online competition. And it is often fear of losing the personal element that makes them reluctant to embrace in-store Wi-Fi, despite so much evidence that the technology boosts bricks-and-mortar revenues.

The concern is that shoppers will log on to the free Wi-Fi with their smart phones, compare prices and products and then leave to make a purchase elsewhere without ever engaging with the staff.

Yet while they may be understandably proud of their customer service, retailers need to consider the wave of change that is going to overwhelm their sector. A generation that grew up with smart devices is about to become the biggest group of spenders.

This increasingly mature demographic has never needed face-to-face contact to make a purchase and in the future, will not be carrying cash. They will swipe a device over a reader, say thanks very much and leave a store with their purchase, having previously completed most of their research into products and prices online.

If the retailer is offering free Wi-Fi, much of that research may well have been conducted in-store on a smart phone or tablet in the minutes leading up to the decision to buy.  If a store is not providing the expected level of technological convenience, these customers will head elsewhere anyway.

Open the door to personal data

Remarkable as it may seem, some store owners still fail to appreciate the huge gains in business intelligence to be derived from providing in-store Wi-Fi to their customers. Once customers have been persuaded to log on through social media, the technology opens the door to all kinds of information. Younger people in particular are more willing to exchange the personal information they have posted online if it means they are likely to receive better service or special in-store offers.

In some cases, retailers’ lack of enthusiasm for Wi-Fi springs from having previously installed basic packages that just gave crude information about demographics, requiring a lot of work before any value could be extracted. But the analytics that are available now can be adjusted to a high level of granularity. Store owners can learn about their customers’ likes and dislikes and their wider habits. Store managers can see which customers are visiting at which times of day, how long they stay, and by using in-store triangulation (by having two or more Wi-Fi devices installed), they can find out where particular groups of customers are spending most of their time in an outlet with a large floor area.

It means managers can be far more focused on how they arrange the products and deliver offers in different parts of the store, particularly if they are using digital signage carrying tailored content. Customers only have to log on once, so that when they return, they will be automatically connected if their device is switched on.

Wi-Fi flexibility

There are plenty of other applications for Wi-Fi technology that should be considered as well, including stock-taking and monitoring, and the remote supervision of in-store appliances such as freezers or alarm systems.

The full exploitation of Wi-Fi within larger stores has also yet to be achieved. A store with concessions could easily provide Wi-Fi to its many partners, allowing them to monitor stock and transmit other data on the same system with complete security.

Despite the advantages, fear of security breaches and a heightened sense of privacy often prevent more conservative retailers from fully embracing in-store Wi-Fi. They question whether their data and analytics can be safe in the cloud and worry that customers with sophisticated devices will be able to abuse the technology.

Complete confidence

Retailers also report that their confidence in the cloud has been knocked by revelations about international spying and data-hacking. Yet this has little immediate relevance. Any retailer using a reputable network solutions provider should have complete security and will always retain ownership of their data, which cannot be sold or shared with any third party.

On the other hand, it is easily possible to limit the power and range of in-store Wi-Fi so that nobody can stand outside the door using it to download a gaming app, or spend hours on it with no benefit to the business.

Since it confers so many business advantages, the message needs to get through to retailers that in-store Wi-Fi will soon pay for itself. For this reason, having really robust technology is hugely important. Consumers may be polite when a shop manager cannot tell them about product availability because “the system is down”, but they will probably not be seen in that store again.

If retailers use providers with a tested track record, they can overcome their fears and anxieties about Wi-Fi and see a return on their investment within six months. Despite the evidence that social media is no longer expanding as quickly as previously, there is still a huge amount of revenue to be derived from in-store Wi-Fi and the analytics that flow from it.


For more information on Hughes Europe’s retail solutions, contact Dan Thornton on D.Thornton@hugheseurope.com or visit the Hughes website: www.hughes.com