Wi-Fi can generate revenue and enhance the retail experience

Wi-Fi is critical for retail analysis and helping operators offload 3G/4G mobile data, argues Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax

Wi-Fi can generate revenue and enhance the retail experience

Part of the customer service that high street coffee shops, like Starbucks and Costa, now offer is free Wi-Fi. What may once have been considered a relative luxury is now an expected service, with so many customers using their local high street coffee shop to work, revise or simply just to browse the internet.

However, free Wi-Fi is a potential money pit if the business providing this service isn’t utilising the vast possibilities that Wi-Fi access offers in terms of business gain. Businesses have the opportunity to turn the cost of an expected convenience into a revenue stream, at the same time as enhancing customer experience and brand loyalty.

Wi-Fi is a guaranteed route to internet access, at least it is when you compare it with the standard mobile networks (3G/4G), which are not always 100% reliable, but it’s not always perceived in that way. The process for accessing retailers’ Wi-Fi is not always a smooth one, with some requesting users to sign up using quite lengthy online sign-up forms.

With so many users ‘on the move’, it’s unrealistic to expect adherence to a sign-up process that can take five minutes. Yes, that may not seem that arduous, but when you only want internet access to check the price of a specific product or the location of a store in a shopping mall – the five minutes it takes to sign-up to the Wi-Fi, doesn’t seem worth the time spent. The user will just choose to rely on patchy 3G or 4G coverage to access the internet.

This is a problem for both the retailer as well as the mobile operator. Bearing in mind the retailer, in most cases, is also the Wi-Fi service provider, if the user is in the store’s Wi-Fi coverage radius, the retailer will lose out when it comes to user engagement. Retailers rely on consumer information and interaction, to better the service they offer and to provide a more targeted marketing strategy. If the consumer is relying on their 3G or 4G network – it’s harder for retailers to manage consumer interactions.

From the operator’s perspective, the problem of data overload is potentially significant. If you imagine, hypothetically, that in a big shopping mall every retailer that provides a managed Wi-Fi service is suffering from downtime – consumers will resort to their standard mobile networks. If everyone in the mall is doing this, then there are obvious concerns for operators who are trying to manage the data flow through the Wi-Fi.

Retailers and operators can have a mutually-beneficial relationship when it comes to network provision. For instance, retailers who own their own networks can offer access to operators for a fee which will help operators manage the data overload, and similarly operators can offer managed Wi-Fi services to retailers for a fee. Hence, there is an obvious cost-saving implication for retailers that are anxious about investing capital and operational expenditure in Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi is growing. According to market trends analysis from Gartner (Small Cell Deployment Strategies and Real-Time Analytics), carrier-grade Wi-Fi hot spot locations are increasing and small cells, which are vital to effective 3G data offload, are expected to capture 26% of smart device traffic by 2018. This gives some indication as to how significant Wi-Fi is in reducing the data pressure on the 3G and 4G networks.

The importance of small cell technology is best seen in the retail space. There is a clear benefit when it comes to alleviating pressure on other licensed spectrums, but the added benefit to retailers is that real-time analytics can be performed far more accurately using small cell Wi-Fi nodes, as opposed to macrocells, which typically serve a larger radius. Small cells just have greater precision when it comes to data analytics.

In terms of customer engagement, small cell deployments give retailers access to real-time analytics, which in turn allow them to offer a more targeted and personal marketing approach, based on a customer’s location or previous purchasing patterns.

Managed Wi-Fi networks give retailers critical and hugely valuable information that can help determine everything from the most effective store layout to the consumer’s experience while in-store. It’s not just conceptual either; the data that retailers can use from their Wi-Fi managed network, gives very specific information that can be used to directly improve sales by appealing to shoppers’ preferences and tendencies.

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