Many places I frequent these days advertise free guest Wi-Fi, however, most of the time the experience is so poor and frustrating that I wonder if it would be better for the establishment to not offer free guest Wi-Fi at all. Whether it be in a store or a waiting room, the Free Guest Wi-Fi sign posted on the door is a personal invitation to enjoy Internet connectivity without the hit to your data plan. A fine courtesy. But when free guest Wi-Fi is so painfully slow, then the invitation feels more like an insult.
Retail has been under attack from Amazon for quite a while now but they are still falling short on creating compelling, unique shopping experiences. Most traditional retailers are still not properly leveraging their most decisive competitive advantage, the storefront, besides Apple who re-imagined retail from the ground up.
The strategy is to engage customers when they enter and immerse them in a digital in-store experience. It's intended to reduce "showrooming," which is the condition where shoppers get the tactile experience they need to make a purchase decision in the store, but then leave and buy it online at Amazon.
But if guest Wi-Fi is terrible then there is little-to-no digital experience. Not only that, but when the excitement of jumping on free guest Wi-Fi turns sour because its so difficult to connect or so slow to use, then you risk damaging to your brand. The strength and value of your brand is comprised of all the transactions and experiences consumers have with your organization. This includes your free guest Wi-Fi. As a marketing professional, this is why I argue the point that you're better off NOT offering free guest Wi-Fi to your customers if it just plain stinks. Because the resulting customer experience is so terrible, that it's insulting to our digital sensibilities...and you don't want to insult your customers!
Here's a final thought on apps, free guest Wi-Fi and retail's survival moving forward:
A mobile app as a shopping companion is not immersing customers in a digital experience. Shopping apps are generally clunky, boring and offer very little additional value. In short, it's not a good reason to invite your customers to jump on free guest Wi-Fi and I seriously doubt the app does anything to enhance the customer experience or increase revenue. There are exceptions, of course. For example, I really like what Target is doing with their Cartwheel app. Try it.
Finally, please heed this final warning: if there is no good digital experience to be had, one that will actually result in a positive shopping experience and ends with an in-store purchase, then please consider not offering this courtesy service. Unless you are going to invest in good WLAN design and Wi-Fi performance management, then the risk to the customer experience and your brand is just too great.