Free WiFi can be more than just a way of enticing customers into your store

Thierry Masson, WiFi Product Marketing Specialist at OneAccess discusses the monetization potential of free customer WiFi services.

The subject of free WiFi for customers seems to leave many traditional “bricks and mortar” high street retailers with a bit of a dilemma; on the one hand it can be a relatively low cost way of getting the always-connected consumers through the front door, but on the other there is the nagging concern that maybe those consumers are using the service for reasons that are not obviously helping to drive revenue or improve the bottom line.

I think it is fairly safe to say that at one time or another we have all taken advantage of an in-store hot-spot, saving on our mobile data charges to compare prices for the item we have our eye on (before purchasing elsewhere), no? Just me then.

Given this scenario it is perhaps understandable why many of the high street chains are sitting on the fence in terms of turning their stores into a digital friendly, 21st century smart-spaces. Recent UK research found that only around 30% of the top 50 retailers provided free WiFi for customers and, oddly, of those that did only a small handful actually made the service widely known through in-store signage.

While there are undoubtedly many different reasons why the other 70% have yet to work out how they can monetize a free WiFi service, they are meanwhile missing out on a rich seam of customer behaviour data that is waiting to be mined and used to help convert casual shoppers into long term loyal customers.

Of the many reasons, the choice of technology and the investment in resources (IT and human) required to convert the mass of data points into actionable marketing and sales strategies, are amongst the more significant challenges for retailers without the necessary in-house expertise.

Key questions that need to be answered revolve around the quality of service issues; the speed and reliability of the connection across the whole store as well as the overall experience for users with limited patience for delays from complex login processes. With potentially hundreds of simultaneous users accessing high-bandwidth consuming applications the system clearly needs to be robust. It also needs to be linked to a substantial back-end analytics-engine if the marketing potential is to be fully realized.

As well as the physical network, retailers also need to consider a range of operational issues including the registration and return login process together with the security and legal compliance implications associated with storing sensitive customer information. To help businesses answer all these questions specialist service providers have emerged, who are able to offer an integrated Cloud based platform that provides retailers with a fully-featured, off-the-shelf solution. This includes ownership and analysis of the data in terms of customer behaviour to enable development of targeted promotional campaigns, offers and surveys designed to get feedback and increase sales conversion rates.

However, all of this is fairly academic if it means that busy shoppers are reluctant to go through several hoops and delays before being authenticated and allowed Internet access just to enhance their shopping experience.

The problem can be overcome by deploying specialist WiFi routers with embedded Web Portal Redirection (WPR) functionality. As the name suggests, WPR takes the user directly to the service provider portal at login in one step to provide a quick and easy network connection.

OneAccess is one vendor already working with several specialist service providers that has integrated Web Portal Redirection (WPR) into its WiFi enabled routers along with its advanced range of performance enhancing features specifically designed to deliver a secure, smooth, high-speed connection and user experience.

Any retailer looking to move forward in leveraging the full potential of their WiFi service would be well advised to look for a partner who can not only guarantee a gold standard customer experience but also offers the means to deliver a tangible, bottom-line return on investment.