The search for a shop or café offering free Wi-Fi used to be a regular struggle for frugal, tech-savvy consumers. But Wi-Fi has gone from being a “nice to have” to an expectation, especially in highly populated areas. It is no longer a luxury but a commodity for today’s mobile-wielding consumers, which explains the increased provision of free, public Wi-Fi. Consumers expect to be able to connect everywhere – including in their favourite stores. The growth of social media, coupled with increased variety and use of personal devices, means that everyone expects to stay connected wherever they go, without having to pay extra for it. This need for free Wi-Fi is set to grow as the Internet of Things continues to expand, making connectivity an expectation and necessity for consumers and businesses alike.
To deliver a truly great customer experience, businesses must ensure they implement a network that is optimised for fast Wi-Fi communication. Beyond meeting consumers’ basic expectations, free Wi-Fi offers a number of opportunities to boost engagement and loyalty. This is especially true for the retail industry, where free Wi-Fi can create personalised shopping experiences for their customers like tailored discounts in-store. Providing free Wi-Fi in store should be a priority for retailers seeking to engage its customers, but they need to go beyond this and use wireless technology to deeply enhance the retailing experience. We’re not just talking about millennials, who will soon have the greatest purchasing power of any demographic, but also about the growing number of people belonging to older generations whose desire for digital engagement is continuing to grow.
Some clothing retailers are already thriving by optimising their in-store experiences based on the conversations they are having online. They successfully use social media and a “fail-fast” methodology, shaping their offerings and improving their interactions with customers by taking immediate action on the feedback they receive from their online customer communities. Although the phrase “bricks and clicks” may seem somewhat outdated in the digital age, this is actually exactly what consumers today are looking for. They want to be able to switch seamlessly between shopping on their devices and visiting a physical store. As lines between online and instore retail experiences continue to blur, free Wi-Fi provides a way to continue the digital experience in-store, or vice-versa. Digitisation of the in-store experience, using technology like live inventory tracking, mobile payments and digital signage, allows retailers to integrate their in-store and online business models to create one seamless shopping experience.
Equipping sales staff with Wi-Fi enabled tablets is just one way that retailers can connected stay with shoppers and influence sales”. Providing staff with this sort of technology is a great way to boost engagement, as it gives them a new way to open up a dialogue with customers, for example by using the visual and interactive support of the tablet to discuss products and make recommendations. It also enables staff to carry out searches based on what the customer is looking for. Sales assistants are already using these tablets for a variety of purposes like customer loyalty schemes, but it is also a simple and effective way of bridging the in-store and online experiences. However, for it to work in-store a reliable wireless connection, that can cope in even the busiest shopping periods, is essential. Customers need to see the in-store experience as being as seamless and simple as the online experience.
Technologies shaking up the retail industry
As the trend towards digitalisation continues, we can expect to see businesses significantly increasing their investment in a growing range of connected devices and applications. Beacons, for example, are likely to become more commonplace. These enable brands to drive footfall into store, by sending personalised and targeted push notifications. For example, a customer walking in the vicinity of a store may receive a message detailing location-specific promotions and customer rewards. Once in the store, they may receive prompts or product recommendations based on what area of the store they are in. This type of technology is helping retailers to engage with customers that are glued to their devices, encouraging them to visit the store as part of the decision to purchase.
Another technology being explored within the context of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the retail industry is digital signage, which pushes adverts and price changes to store in real-time. This improves engagement with customers by making sure that the information supplied to them is as up-to-date as it can be. Similarly, retailers can further enhance the customer experience by using smart shelves to automatically live track deliveries and monitor inventory in stores. This technology tackles one of the largest sources of customer frustration: items being out of stock. Having access to real-time updates helps staff to provide better customer service by giving them the ability to answer stock queries more effectively.
Free Wi-Fi can help sales staff to provide a smarter personal service, by tracking customer statistics such as times visited and past purchase information. From this they can build profiles to identify VIP customers and alert management or concierge services when they are in store. There is a range of other creative implementations being experimented with retailers in a bid to boost instore customer engagement, often by addressing the reasons that shoppers may choose to browse online rather than instore. One example is smart mirrors, which use augmented reality technology to enhance the shopping experience by offering the possibility of trying on new outfits without the inconvenience of queueing for the fitting room and trying the clothes on.
Increasingly high-performance Wi-Fi is seen as the backbone infrastructure for all other connectivity technologies including the future 5G networks – the ideal virtual infrastructure for the current and future needs of businesses and consumers alike. All of this is happening in the wider setting of the advancement of IoT and the increased deployment of smart technologies. As the interconnectedness between people, places and things continues to grow and becomes commonplace, shoppers will expect to see this ongoing digital interaction as standard when they visit stores. Robust and reliable Wi-Fi provides the foundation for this, and as such is essential for retailers hoping to benefit from the efficiency and engagement that these technologies can offer. Now is the time to cash in on the connected customer, by providing fast wireless connectivity that will allow retailers to connect with their customers in real time.
Nick Watson, VP EMEA, Ruckus Wireless
Image Credit: Chris Oakley / Flickr