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Removing the high street roadblock to omni-channel marketing

The growth of Devicescape’s curated virtual network (CVN) of UK Wi-Fi hotspots to over 500,000, announced in February 2016, is strong evidence of venue Wi-Fi technology becoming fully proven. In addition, their quality of service survey at the end of 2015 highlights the growing importance that high street venues attach to offering free Wi-Fi to customers. Some of the retailers scoring highest marks were Greggs, Marks & Spencer, Boots, Pizza Express and Asda with four of these supported by Synaptix on behalf of EE and The Cloud.

However, as the strategic value of high quality public Wi-Fi shifts from being a pure convenience service to enabling real-time omni-channel customer engagement, mobile payments and operational tasks such as CCTV and IoT enabled devices, it will become vital for high street and other venue owners to more regularly benchmark and review the performance of their operators’ services.

Wake up call

One thing retailers and other venue owners will discover is how little they really know about their physical visitors (instore customers and potential customers) in comparison to the virtual variety on their other channels whether it’s web, apps or call centre. Sure, they may swipe loyalty cards on exit but by then it’s too late for that highly personalised omni-channel sales opportunity – that should have happened when the visitor was browsing the wine aisle or whatever.

To be truly omni-channel a retailer must know who is in their stores, have permission to engage with them, knowing where they are in the store, and a way of communicating with them that allows the retailer to immediately influence their behaviour. Finally, they should have the ability to look at the customer’s other interactions with them.

It can be achieved by innovative use of the retailers public Wi-Fi infrastructure. Making access to free services as easy as possible for customers is understandable but simply having a “get connected” button on the landing page is a wasted marketing opportunity. Where’s the Quid pro quo? Letting customers access your free public Wi-Fi without getting mobile phone details information and permission to market to them in return is crazy.

Roadblock ahead

There are two roadblocks in the road to true omni-channel. First, most marketing departments are in blissful ignorance as Wi-Fi is being left to languish in the domain of the IT department whose job isn’t to capture and mine data for real-time CRM purposes. Leaving venue Wi-Fi infrastructure and analytics software solely in the hands of IT departments is preventing most retailers’ marketing experts from joining up the dots in their quest for ‘seamless’ single views of their customers across all channels – popularly known as omni-channel. Unwittingly, therefore, by making sure all the lights are on and nothing more, IT is potentially costing retail venues major revenue opportunities.

Secondly, there are currently many companies offering Wi-Fi analytics to retailers but virtually all of them stress that their data is anonymised (i.e. no personal data is collected) and is therefore of no value in the real time omni-Channel world.

Many people say getting so personal with customers and potential ones is a step too far - that this would be in infringement of their privacy. However customers are clearly willing to do this in other channels (e.g. online, social etc.) and, whilst I was working for EE we operated public Wi-Fi for Asda, who now have over 3 million registered Wi-Fi users, with permission for Asda to market to them. This is a testament to customers’ acceptance of a “Quid pro quo” for getting free public Wi-Fi in return for giving some personal data to a responsible retailer (don’t abuse this by then spamming them).

IT and marketing please note all of the large public Wi-Fi operators run Wi-Fi networks for their own benefit to differentiate their mobile and broadband offerings, allow customers to consume their content, or to offload data traffic from a congested 3G network - rather than for the retailers benefit and therefore do not offer value added services.

UK retailers aren’t alone. In the United States a recent survey by Boston Retail Partners found just three per cent of retailers having the ability to identify customers when they walk in the store.

To really bring physical stores into the omni-channel retailing space the marketing director should collaborate with IT and push for the following from public Wi-Fi infrastructure:

  • Own all of the instore equipment required, possibly outsourcing the installation, monitoring and maintenance to a manged Wi-Fi service provider. This infrastructure can then be used by many other internal systems as well as public Wi-Fi (e.g. mobile payments, CCTV, telephony etc.)
  • Purchase a public Wi-Fi service to overlay onto this infrastructure, which would cover:
    • the broadcasting of their SSID (i.e. the retailers) only,
    • authentication of customers onto the network through a once only registration process
    • validation of a mobile number as part of this process
    • asking the customer to sign a set of T&C’s that give them, not the network operator, permission to market to customers.
    • Ensure that the operator has a “real time” API that can send them details of when each customer enters and leaves a store
    • Work with an analytics company who have a “real time, rules based” engine that can allow you to look at other data (e.g. your website logs, transactional data, loyalty data, App data, weather data etc.), make decisions, and then communicate with your customers whilst they are still in your store

Do this and retailers will finally achieve full omni-channel marketing, able to engage with their customers on a personal level via their mobile, knowing how they have interacted with you across all touch points.

It’s time for IT and marketing to look up and smell the coffee in aisle 15! All of the Wi-Fi infrastructure and analytics technology is here today and many will find they have much of it already to hand.

Graham Cove, Business Development Director at Synaptix Technologies

Image Credit: Shutterstock/djile