The Importance of Customer WiFi for SMB Retailers and Restaurants

by Michael Flannery
July 17, 2018

You are likely hearing more and more about how the customer experience (CX) is the most important business priority and measure of business success, this is especially true with respect to businesses in the retail and restaurant space. Customer WiFi access is becoming central to this effort, and in turn is providing retailers and restauranteurs with the opportunity to gather new insights from customers’ in-store interactions and behaviors, paving the way to an improved customer experience.

So, what are the specific table-stakes for a quality in-store customer experience these days? Well, recent studies have found the following:

  • 80% of millennials (we are talking customers that are currently in the 24 to 38-year-old age range), as well as half of ALL shoppers, use their mobile device while in stores to compare prices, look up reviews or check local store inventory.
  • 90% of Gen Z-ers (this is the current “up-to-23-years-old” group) say that in-store WiFi is absolutely critical to their shopping and dining experiences.
  • 80% of millennials prefer scan-and-go technology (scanning their items as they shop, then paying via app – no standing in checkout lines) but only 3% of retailers currently offer this.
  • 49% of all diners say WiFi availability is a major factor in determining where they eat, while 51% of millennials look up tips on what to order and restaurant reviews while in the restaurant, and 23% of them share pictures and content from within the restaurant.

The benefits of providing WiFi access

Customer WiFi access is a clear table-stake in delivering a satisfactory customer experience. However, not all WiFi solutions are created equal. Slow WiFi that doesn’t meet up to the customer’s home and office connections could be worse than no WiFi at all. But back to the point…

Customers are more likely to engage with your business digitally with WiFi access in place – they will gladly connect with you in exchange for instant in-store promotions or loyalty rewards.  A strong WiFi solution also enables your staff to use tablets to assist customers in checking on inventory, and checking them out via mobile POS which brings the interaction to the customer, rather than the customer having to seek out associates at a register. This type of uninterrupted interaction leads to a higher likelihood of purchase and an improved customer experience.

What about all the intelligence you can gather via your WiFi solution?

Let’s start with the types of data you can gather from your WiFi solution:

  • WiFi usage data: Provides information on device types, how long visitors use the network, return or frequent visitors, traffic patterns, etc.
  • Foot traffic data: Counts the number of smartphones near a WiFi access point via AP probe requests or a smart router (long story short, you can gather info from folks that carry a smartphone even if they don’t connect to your WiFi) which can provide insights into your busiest times of the day, return visitors and the most popular physical locations inside your venue – the old school meaning of a “hot spot.”
  • Demographic data: Delivers information such as age, gender, income, interests, etc. that helps build out a customer profile for future customized targeting. Collect this data via a WiFi access splash page (which also provides some prime real estate for promotions) or use social WiFi as an access method – requiring they “like” your store/restaurant’s Facebook page or tweet, something about your business in order to access WiFi – this connection of a social media profile to an otherwise anonymous device delivers lots of valuable demographic data.

So, what are some examples of ways you can use this data? Just to name a few:

  1. You might send a special coupon for a free dessert (or whatever your business provides) to a frequent visitor thanking them for their loyalty to your business.
  2. You might send a customer a birthday coupon (you know this because at some point they used their social profile to interact with your WiFi).
  3. During the holiday season, you may push out a notification to all shoppers logged onto your network letting them know which registers are currently free or have little wait time.

Obviously, the more data you gather, the more customized you can be. But, even broadly speaking, your WiFi solution makes it easy to promote events and offers to your customers.

Digital transformation, security and IT headaches

Smaller businesses tend to be nimbler, allowing them to make the digital transformation a bit easier than larger geo-dispersed operations, and investing in a smart WiFi access solution does not have to break the bank. While some of the trends mentioned (such as mobile scan-and-go technology) are a bit more involved than simply providing free WiFi to customers, most of these topics stem directly from simple in-store WiFi access via an analytics-focused WiFi solution.

However smaller businesses are less likely to have IT departments – specifically local retailers, franchisers and restaurants. This makes ease of installation and ease of access to the analytics of paramount importance.

We all know that if customer experience is a top priority, security is right up there with it. While the subject of this blog post is focused on harnessing the power of WiFi analytics and meeting customers’ digital in-store expectations, it is not lost on us that you must provide a highly secure “intelligence-gathering” WiFi solution. While that’s fodder for another post entirely, rest assured that secure WiFi solutions that are simple to install (really, just plug and play) do exist.

Solutions like Secure WiFi & Analytics, can do just this – provide in-store WiFi that meets customer expectations while gathering usage, foot traffic and demographic data which is accessible through a simple cloud-based management tool – all while being protected by WIPS (wireless intrusion protection system), meeting PCI compliance standards, and featuring “zero-touch” plug-and-play installation. To further guarantee security, you can also run your WiFi off a private, secure MPLS network.

A little WiFi can go a long way when it comes to improving your customer experience. In fact, I would venture to say it’s probably the lowest hanging fruit out there when discussing customer experience and digital transformation for SMBs.