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GUEST OPINION How retailers can reap the rewards of free wifi

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Providing free WiFi to customers is giving retailers more than pause for thought. Whilst once it was purely used to gain and maintain a loyal clientele, it is becoming increasingly invaluable for analysing customer behaviour and footfall. Gavin Wheeldon, CEO, Purple WiFi explains

The truth is customers expect free WiFi wherever they go. From the local coffee shop to a large chain store they want to log in with ease. No fuss. In allowing this unlimited access, retailers themselves can reap significant rewards. Even if the business itself has to pay for the cost of WiFi installation they can, if they use the correct product, find themselves with valuable data about their customer and most importantly, their purchasing habits and preferences.

The objective is to improve both the customer and retailer experience. Outdated WiFi companies hang on to the data gathered about who is logging in, but this valuable information is crucial to the retailer and must be made available as standard.

Want to know the age, gender and dwell times of your customer? You got it. While customers enjoy the ease at which they can gain access to their social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the retailer gains an understanding of who they are and what they are most likely to purchase. It’s a technological no-brainer and one that my company, Purple WiFi is keen to encourage retailers to use.

This is important because from the retailer’s point of view, useful customer information and footfall data can be collected and used to better target offers and in-store signage. It can also be linked to the retailer’s own CMS and loyalty systems to enhance their own information, as well as assist in space planning and staff planning to fit customer’s actual requirements from real data collected in-store. From the customer’s point of view, offers can be delivered direct to their device when they are in the location looking at a product area, meaning the offer is relevant there and then. It also enables showrooming, which retailers have been nervous of in the past, but if in-store offers match those of online retailers then the customer will quickly appreciate the benefits.

There are also more subtle ways in which the retailer can use the data. Analytics can hook up the profiles of people logging on to the retailer’s customer database; are people browsing online and coming in to buy? Can you encourage that? Are you wondering why there is a difference in purchases of male and female sections of the store? Are there times when there are vast amounts of shoppers in store, yet purchases aren’t being made?

In addition, retailers that are contractually obligated to offer a certain amount of space in-store to large suppliers can offer full transparency on footfall facts and figures on the spaces in question, removing any fear of compliance on the agreed terms.

More importantly, for the customer, the data can be used to reward the loyal shopper and could create a more personal feel to a retailer as the business shows they understand the offers their customers want.

Nisa Cardiff and Camden Market are two examples of retailers that are already utilising geo-fencing, which draws invisible lines around particular sales areas or locations. This allows the business to gauge what purchases the customer might be considering and send information or offers in real-time to their mobile device. Nisa have found that Purple WiFi has brought more people into the shop and increased their dwell time. In turn they’ve purchased more snacks and coffee.

Camden Market have also used Purple WiFi’s Facebook insights and zoning reporting capabilities. This has enabled the identification of visitor’s interest preferences with Facebook, which can better target marketing campaigns for specific traders. It has also found the vouchering tool to be useful for photography competitions and promoting live events.

Using this new technology not only rewards the retailers but customers find the experience interesting too. Easy access to WiFi may enable a flustered parent to calm their child while they make an essential purchase. Others may hook up with Facebook connections. But it can have more than a social use. There is real value for the consumer. Real-time voucher codes can be delivered to the device at the moment the customer happens to be looking at the item while an in-store stock checker can help them avoid the queues and quickly find out if something is available in store.

Some retailers are leading the way and seeing the benefit of the new technology on offer but not all are using it to its full advantage. The Future Stores 2014 State of Brick and Mortar Report looked into the in-store retail experience and technology standards currently in place at over 110 of America’s top companies. When the stores were asked whether they were gathering data from customer behaviour and using the data to make marketing decisions, most were starting to do this.

Only 17% said they were either not extracting customer analytics or not utilising them effectively. The same percentage said that they were happy with how they were utilising analytics. Two thirds of those asked recognised that although they were using data analytics they could improve how effectively they were being used, with many recognising that there was much more that could be done with the customer data they had gathered.

One way of not only gathering but understanding data analytics is through WiFi technology specifically tailored to the retail sector. This enables retailers to paint a clear picture of footfall around their stores and effectively engage with customers through highly targeted marketing campaigns.

There is an argument to be had that technology such as this may well be leading people back to the High Street. After years of increasing online sales, customers are starting to see the benefit of shopping in well, shops once again. If a voucher code pops up on their device while they’re actually in the shop, they are more likely to make that purchase.

The cost of installing retail-friendly WiFi varies depending on the size of the retailer and the functionality required. Used correctly the retailer could hope to recoup their costs within a few months thanks to additional customers and spend achieved through targeted coupons and offers. For others it may take longer but valuable data and information will have been gathered.

In a volatile economic market retailers must understand their customers and react to their needs quickly and effectively. So what are you waiting for?

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