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Wi-Fi: a must-have for retailers

Today’s consumer expects to have Wi-Fi within easy reach wherever they’re shopping, browsing or eating, and retailers who don’t understand this expectation could find themselves with diminishing traffic, dipping sales and ebbing brand loyalty.

Implementing free guest Wi-Fi can pay off in more ways than one, and by 2017, an estimated 56 percent of retailers will be on board. Those who aren’t will be missing out on two big opportunities: to provide a rewarding omnichannel experience for consumers and a valuable opportunity to collect data and analyze consumer information that can not only help personalize the sales experience — a growing expectation among consumers — but provide invaluable insight on what’s working from marketing to store design.

That’s why Retail Customer Experience reached out to one of the big players providing Wi-Fi technology, Zebra Technologies. We talked with Suzanne Dickson, senior global product marketing manager for WLAN, for her insight on the challenges retailers may face with guest Wi-Fi deployments and why it’s such a valuable proposition for retailers online and offline.

RCE: Providing guest Wi-Fi seems like a no-brainer value add, with a good portion of brands are on board, but why isn’t every retailer taking advantage?

Dickson: Most large retailers do offer guest Wi-Fi, but the majority have not upgraded yet to the latest technology, which supports bandwidth-heavy applications (e.g. video, video cameras, streaming), deeper analytics, and faster network speeds. These retailers may not fully understand how this latest technology enhances the customer experience and benefits the retailer. Shoppers also benefit from better online performance for their devices, and those who opt-in for in-store Wi-Fi may also receive promotions and rewards — just as they would with competitive online websites.

Today’s consumers expect engagement and “one store, one experience” — meaning compelling loyalty programs, promotions, and offers whether they are in-store or online. When Wi-Fi is paired with a microlocationing solution, contextual awareness is increased as the retailer can target the shopper’s location within the store and dwell time next to certain products. This helps provide the most relevant and timely promotions and a personalized connection. And the retailer gains insightful analytics such as in-store customer location, traffic patterns, and customer application visibility such as customer online searches, which provides further data on customer behavior and segmentation.

Those retailers who have not implemented guest Wi-Fi may have various concerns, which are addressable, such as security/PCI compliance or IT effort/staff burden. Lastly, those retailers who have not yet deployed Wi-Fi may not fully understand its impact on in-store sales and customer engagement. Retailers can lose a potential sales opportunity if they do not connect with a customer via Wi-Fi each time he or she enters the store. Online shoppers are frequently targeted, and they clearly have the ability to research product information, perform price comparisons, and read product reviews. The retailer can optimize customer engagement if it provides the same experience in-store.

RCE: If they are doing it, do you think most are doing it well — providing great uptime and speed or do they need to enhance given consumer expectations?

Dickson: The majority of retailers need to upgrade to the latest 802.11ac technology. This would provide:

  • Up to 3x faster performance
  • Optimal support for an increasing number of devices, device types, and unknown traffic patterns (slow vs. busy periods)
  • The ability to enable bandwidth-heavy applications such as video (customers browsing video on devices) or video cameras (retailer monitoring customer traffic patterns to improve staff support/customer service)

Many customers today are tech-savvy and they expect superior Wi-Fi performance for a wide range of activities they perform on their devices, whether it is seeking product information and price comparisons or watching YouTube.

RCE: Are there any misconception retailers have about Wi-Fi that may be holding them back from providing this to consumers?

Dickson: First, security is always a concern, which is expected. Retailers need to feel confident they will not have security breaches or jeopardize customer privacy. Retailers need to understand that there is technology that has security above and beyond a standard public Wi-Fi hotspot connection. Today’s technology provides end-to-end protection against eavesdropping, rogue access point broadcasts, and other typical vulnerabilities. It uses infrastructure-based authentication that does not require an in-store dedicated firewall. Each device is identified and “fingerprinted” and its user is provisioned with the appropriate access, which allows for network monitoring.

Second, retailers do not want to burden their IT staff. The solution needs to be easy for the guest to use. Guest onboarding is simple; the customer can sign-in via social media accounts or a customer mobile app for a self-serve, one-time process. The intuitive system recognizes the shopper on their return visit so there is no need to authenticate again.

RCE: Most consumers typically expect to have Internet access while shopping these days, for product and price comparison, etc., so is there a real chance of annoying and turning off consumers if there is no Wi-Fi guest option?

Dickson: Yes. Consumers are tech-savvy, especially shoppers that have grown up with technology. They expect Wi-Fi access. Customers want to be able to research products, perform price comparisons, read customer reviews, and find coupons online while in-store, just as they would with an online shopping experience. It has become challenging to pull customers into a store when they have ease-of-use and information at hand while shopping online. The retailer should match this experience in-store to attract customers and create a shopping experience worth repeating. In addition, many shoppers are closely monitoring data usage on cellular bills (do not want to use their cellular plans for data while shopping) and do not want to use spotty indoor cellular coverage.

RCE: Can you offer one or two tips on what to do or what not to do when deploying guest Wi-Fi in a retail environment?

Dickson: First, do not underestimate the large influx of devices, devices types, and bandwidth-heavy apps which will run on your network. Video viewing has the ability to drop your wireless performance to unacceptable levels, if not planned for properly. Video usage is sky-rocketing and the assumption should be many customers will use it while in-store.

Second, implement or upgrade to the latest 802.11ac technology to prepare for newer mobile devices that will enter the store. This fifth generation wireless network will provide superior quality of service for the guest and manage the unpredictable spikes in device density and bandwidth usage.

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is an experienced editor, reporter and blogger who has worked for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews. She’s written everything from breaking news to in-depth trends. She loves a great pitch so email here, follow on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

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