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Retail Wi-Fi with No Strategy, a Waste of Time and Money

To complete my weekend Honey-Do list, I generally have to visit a variety of local retail establishments. Amazon.com is typically my go-to retailer. However, some items I need right now. Other items require a little hands-on interaction in order to make the right selection.  Retail is challenged right now. Brick and mortar stores are expensive to operate, product margins are thin and Amazon continues to steal market share.  But there's a tremendous opportunity for retail to transform into a more immersive customer experience. Retail's advantage is its ability to tap into all five of the customer's senses and create an extraordinary in-store experience. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, with one being mobile connectivity to compelling applications delivered via high performance Wi-Fi networks. But retail Wi-Fi poorly executed can severely damage the customer experience. Time and again, I see retailers put forth half-hearted efforts. They dabble in Wi-Fi connected experiences, therefore, seriously risk negative impact on their brand.

Retail Wi-Fi

A solid retail Wi-Fi strategy enhances the customer experience and ultimately leads to an increase in revenue. Otherwise, what's the point?  A retail Wi-Fi strategy will accompany a set of goals that benefit both you and your customer…

Goal #1 - Seamless Connectivity

Captive portals are momentum killers that put the entire process of getting connected at risk, thereby stalling-out your strategy before it can even get started. The simple act of getting connected often hinders and frustrates your shoppers. Anything that impedes your customers' forward progress is likely to discourage them. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's been jilted by a retailers captive portal. Some of them take forever to load. Others require you to scroll endlessly before hitting 'Accept'.  Seconds count and from the customer's point of view, the agreement is generally not read and is purely a nuisance. From the corporate point of view, protections (if necessary) may be offered and accepted in a variety of ways other than through a captive portal web page. Doing all you can to facilitate a smooth connection, is in fact, the best way to treat your guests.

Goal #2 - Speedy Connectivity

Why are so many retailers skimping on bandwidth, coverage and capacity if the strategy is to use retail Wi-Fi connectivity to increase in-store revenue and transform the shopping experience? This confounds me.  My only explanation for poor design and severe rate limiting of customers is that it's a decision that comes from IT, who has not been communicated to regarding the strategy.  When IT is told to put Wi-Fi in the stores, without any additional information about the goals or use cases, then what gets installed is barely adequate. I blame Marketing for not articulating their vision and I blame IT for not asking enough questions.

Goal #3 - The Right Redirect

This is where I see so many retailers go wrong. Upon successful connection to the Wi-Fi network, customers need to follow your lead and be taken to the next step in your business process workflow. So many times, I'm directed to the company's website. And while it's mobile-optimized to fit nicely on my small screen, it's a path to nothing particularly useful, helpful or inspiring, so I exit the page -- opportunity lost. Now, a great redirect page will include a simple, strong call-to-action. It contains a personal message that makes customers feel special. It offers valuable information or helpful shopping tools for finding the right products at the right price. It interacts in a straightforward, easy-to-use way. Most importantly…it walks them down a clear path that you have predetermined…one that motivates them to buy and hooks them in a way that inspires their long-term loyalty.  I personally think that Starbucks and Target (Cartwheel) both have great companion apps that assist customers, in-store, thereby facilitating a great customer experience.

In conclusion, don't just dabble in retail Wi-Fi because you risk ruining the customer experience and damaging your brand. Executing an in-store retail Wi-Fi strategy to increase revenue requires careful planning and teamwork. Marketing must communicate and collaborate with IT so that the proper infrastructure,  applications and workflows are all in place. Customer journey maps are created and usability test plans evaluated. Also, a system for continuous Wi-Fi experience testing that includes proactive notifications when Wi-Fi network performance targets fall out of compliance is necessary to ensure business continuity. After all, we're talking about lost revenue here.

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