Where should retailers begin when planning to establish a connected store? By ensuring Wi-Fi is free, plentiful, and robust. Far too many still think of it as a gift, an expensive perk, like an espresso machine serving complimentary coffees. They believe its users are taking advantage of a service without providing anything in return.
This sort of thinking is shortsighted, but likewise very human. People often look to the past for guidance rather than anticipate the possibilities of the future. Not so long ago, merchants questioned the validity of having a web presence, imagining commerce to occur only at the physical location. They also questioned the cost and practicality of a point-of-sale debit machine, perhaps worrying that customers would not trust it as much as cash. Resistance to change is nothing new, but it is almost always flawed.
In-store Wi-Fi is a goose that lays many golden eggs. No matter what a visitor uses it for, it returns value to those retailers who are willing to see it. Let’s look at some examples:
- The Active Shopper: The individual who arrives with the intent to buy, or at least look around, is highly likely to be connected to his or her mobile device. This is the primary tool used to drive the sale forward and to add extra impulse purchases to the cart. The fact that these people use their phones to check prices against the competition is a pro, not a con. It provides an opportunity for retailers to engage them further as they stand physically in the aisles, and it helps keep them there longer. By contrast, the lack of Wi-Fi has a negative halo effect, raising questions as to the establishment’s willingness to provide top-quality service and competitive prices. An online presence reflects the brand as much, or more than any décor, layouts, or campaign. Yes, shoppers could use their own cellular access, but the on-location Wi-Fi helps form a gestalt, depicting an enterprise that is as vibrant, helpful, and engaged on the Web as it is in the real world.
- The Bored Partner: Not everyone who comes to a store wants to shop there. Customers often arrive with their spouses, partners, or friends in tow. These individuals may not be interested in the wares of the present location, or they might not think they are. By impatiently standing outside, or even inside, they put pressure on the actual shopper to go to the checkout and depart quickly, thus reducing the chances for additional purchases to occur. A wise retailer, by contrast, could see fit to ensure these partners have a place to sit and something to do while waiting. It extends the window for the active customer and, on a second and more strategic level, serves as a powerful sales tool for the person waiting. A simple login screen would be a perfect instrument for pulling two or three facts from the person about their preferences and other vital data. It could be an excellent marketing opportunity to send messages like, "Hey, we know you don't like being dragged to these types of stores, but Valentine’s Day is coming up. Do you want to know the top three trends in these products for gift-giving?" Retailers should redefine the waiting person as a captive audience and a potential future customer rather than a cause of early termination of the active partner’s current transaction.
- The Interested Browser: This is the person who has not yet visited, but is online and eager to learn. As an educated shopper, they see the Wi-Fi service as a value added tool for assistance and customer relations. It fits in with the express checkout line, self-checkout line, and loyalty programs as proactive techniques for making the busy consumer’s life easier, more satisfying, and fulfilling. It helps justify the effort of making the trip.
- The Disinterested Browser: This represents a person who is physically near the store – perhaps in the mall – but who feels they want nothing more than the Wi-Fi signal. It is the type of person who scares decision-makers away from serving up an "on the house" promotion. But, nothing is truly free. Just like the “bored partner,” when a disinterested browser logs on, an opening is created to help the retailer learn about them through simple questions, or teach them something that may lead to instant or later purchases. The price for free Wi-Fi is data, which is a commodity whose value never fades.
In fact, for all of these user profiles, data is king. Offering Wi-Fi is a first step in connecting the store to the customer in the digital commerce universe. Focus groups, mailers, and analog forms of market intelligence are now stepping aside to make room for real-time data and the power it represents. It influences behavior, generates loyalty, and builds large collections of extremely useful information.
There is also an outside perspective. Consumers are increasingly unwilling to tolerate a schism between an online and real-world presence. To them, it is one store, and they expect to have a seamless experience between the two.
A generation of millennial consumers is shopping in a new way. They have grown up in a world of apps, and their mobile devices are always nearby. They expect nothing less than the integration of their real-world activities with technology. Seniors also depend on digital commerce sites as a source for research, understanding, and relationships.
The future of retail innovation belongs to the completely personalized relationship, using beacons and app-powered sales associates to connect one-on-one, on a first-name basis with every shopper who walks through the door. However, this era can be ushered in only when the initial building blocks have been put in place – proactively taking charge of the brick-and-mortar experience through the store’s own Wi-Fi infrastructure.
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