Customer WiFi: nice-to-have or must-have?
It will come as a surprise to no-one that online shopping is still on the rise. According to the latest figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, the proportion of online sales for retail businesses is at an all-time high and still growing year-on-year. Granted, it’s quicker in some kinds of retail than others; the proportion for clothing retailers has jumped from 14.7% to 17.6% in the last year alone, while in food it’s moving more steadily, rising from 3.9% to 5.8% in the last five years.
Online shopping is here to stay and has much to recommend it – that much is sure. But whether the rate of growth is set to slow remains to be seen. It’s also worth questioning whether the ‘rapid decline’ narrative that’s attached to offline shopping still rings true. Because, if anything, it seems to us that retailers with physical stores have a unique opportunity on their hands – namely the chance to offer customers an experience that can’t be replicated online by making themselves a destination with hyper-connected shops.The ‘experience’ advantage
Customers don’t online-shop for online shopping’s sake. They do it for the things they can’t get in a physical shop – like better deals, more variety, and greater convenience. Maybe even for discretion. But offline shopping has its own set of qualities that can’t be rivalled – and above all, it’s the experience of it.
To make the most of this natural advantage, retailers should be looking at how they can bring that in-store experience up-to-date, making it more aligned with its online counterpart. Offering free WiFi to make customers feel more connected is an obvious place to start. There’s no denying that a lack of internet access – common in big supermarkets, say, or shopping centres – can be frustrating. Relieving that, even if it’s just so that customers can check their phones for messages or notifications, is likely to put them in a better mood straight away.
But in terms of retail transactions, connectivity offers even more advantages. At the moment, if a customer can’t find what they’re looking for in store, retailers have to rely on them either seeking help from customer services or remembering to look it up to make an online purchase later on. The chances of the transaction actually happening are reduced – but with WiFi, all of that can happen instantly, meaning a potentially lost transaction is avoided.
Knowing your customers
A big part of online shopping’s edge lies in the insights it allows retailers to gather. Through those insights, retailers can deliver carefully targeted offers and highly personalised experiences in the online domain. While many retailers are already taking steps to mirror this and capture data in-store (by emailing receipts, for example), the gulf between what retailers know about their online customers versus their in-store customers is still huge.
This can be underwhelming for both parties. For customers, they don’t get the personalised experience they’re used to getting online. For businesses, they don’t get the chance to learn more about their customers. In-store WiFi can help to solve this. It empowers retailers to build even richer customers profiles, as they capture more detail on in-store customer activity, and in turn to deliver a more unified customer experience across all shopping channels.
All sorts of things can be looked at here: the way the customer moves through the store; the times of day or days of the week they’re likely visit the shop; the items they’re more likely to buy in-store versus online; the way they respond to in-store advertising or window displays. But the key to capturing this data is uptake, of course. It’s got to be easy for customers to log on to in-store WiFi, which could be helped by enabling Facebook login, for example. And an incentive for doing so, such as in-store discounts will always be encouraging.
Reliability is essential for this kind of activity. Retailers need connectivity they can rely on and tools that are easy to use – remember that few shops have in-house IT teams. As such, connectivity solutions supported by employee owned online portals, are crucial.
The connected retailer
Being able to adapt and reinvent is key to the survival of any big business in the digital age. For retailers, creating connected shops is a prime example of this – and it will increasingly be a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Well supported customer WiFi is integral to success in this mission. The goalposts for a good retail experience and retailers must move with them.
The good news is that it will also make retailers stronger and more competitive as businesses, as they get to know their customers better and are therefore able to engage with and sell to them more effectively.