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Is Retail Wi-Fi Ready for the Holidays?


Black Friday is right around the corner and retailers are gearing up for what they hope is a happy and profitable holiday season. Everybody knows that traditional retail continues to battle against the Amazon's of the world. The term 'showrooming' refers to consumers who get a look at products in-store, then buy online. To combat this, retailers have been firing up retail Wi-Fi guest networks in an attempt to control the online experience, keep more visitors in stores and convert more sales. But is it actually working? I would say, "Not yet."  Put differently, at present time, I am cautiously optimistic about the effectiveness of retail Wi-Fi. It has potential, however, I feel it is missing 3 critical pieces.

Wi-Fi Speed Must Surpass LTE

If I hop on the Wi-Fi network at Target then it needs to perform at a high level. A delay in connecting won't cut it and neither will slow downlink throughput. If this is the experience, then shoppers will simply turn off Wi-Fi and go with their carrier's LTE. When Wi-Fi is off, the store loses control over the experience. If retail Wi-Fi is to be successful, then just setting up a 'guest' network won't get them there. The performance of the network needs to meet and exceed expectations such that the retail Wi-Fi is useful and delightful. Connect quickly and feel the speed. This shows you actually care.  Throwing an access point or two into a store with no plan for managing it or the customer experience is akin to throwing away both time and money. In addition, the poor Wi-Fi experience will result in the customer never trying it again.

Accompany Wi-Fi Connection with Special Offers

An example of how a store can use retail Wi-Fi to enhance the customer experience is to provide a reward for connecting to it. Engage them with a 10% off coupon and if they navigate to additional pages on your site, 'upgrade' them to a 15% off coupon. The site also must reflect responsive design and fit nicely on the small screen of mobile devices. I'm hard pressed to come up with anything more frustrating than a website that isn't optimized for mobile devices. This is imperative since retailers should not expect shoppers to download their app in the store. This requirement hinders a shopper's forward momentum and spoils the retail Wi-Fi experience.

Use Beacons to Personalize Offers

Working in conjunction with retail Wi-Fi and mobile devices, beacons have a bright future in stores. Using proximity and bluetooth, product specific offers can be personalized and pushed to shoppers to enrich the in-store experience. There are many interesting use cases for beacon technology that you can read about here.

Retail Wi-Fi performing poorly is a lost opportunity. Retailers need to consider going all-in on providing a meaningful, robust retail Wi-Fi experience if they expect to get any traction with their customers. Here's a neat infographic from AirTight that paints a nice picture of the situation as well.