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GUEST OPINION Why retailers should take ownership of their Wifi infrastructure

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Wifi is increasingly important to instore operations, but should you own it yourself as a retailer or opt to use a network operator? Graham Cove, Business Development Director Synaptix Technologies, helps you decide.

Over the past few years most Wifi in Public locations – stores, hotels, coffee shops etc – has been provided by the major Network Operators, BT Wifi, The Cloud, O2 Wifi, EE Wifi. They have not only operated the service – generally to meet their own objectives rather than the venues – but have also installed and owned the infrastructure access points, cabling, controllers, routers and so on.

Retailers, as venue owners, have to date accepted this situation as it has lowered their need to invest in Wifi, which they consider as a “nice to have” service, simply allowing their customers to access the Internet and Social Media.

Many companies will be unaware that these Network Operators earn revenue by allowing third parties to access the Wifi in their locations. However this position is likely to change as a range of new services, carried over Wifi, make it much more important to the retailer, and make it much more likely that they should own the infrastructure.

The Market Developments driving this change are:-

  • Marketing Initiatives

Anonymised Wifi Analytics

All smartphones, with Wifi enabled, send anonymised signals to Wifi access points in your stores. Retailers can use this information to analyse how customers move through your stores, how long they stay in each department and how regularly they visit. The raw data can also be used to measure conversion rates, how loyal customers are, how many people walk by and how many come in, across all of your stores.

When presented correctly this information can be invaluable in providing hard data, on which to take key decisions about store layouts, promotional effectiveness, staff rota’s etc.

Real Time Customer Engagement whilst customers are instore

All the talk in the Retail Industry is about a) Personalised communications, b) Mobile marketing and c) Omnichannel marketing.

You can achieve all of these by using data from your Wifi system.

Retailers know everything that their customers do on their web pages and everything that they do within their App, however they don’t currently know when customers are in their physical stores, except when they present a loyalty or credit card on their way out.

To understand when customers are instore and to make real use of the above Marketing tools you will need to have a system whereby you can gain explicit permission from your customers to have a marketing relationship with them, via the T&C’s that you ask them to sign up to in return for accessing your FREE Wifi. You should also validate each customers Mobile number as part of the initial registration process, this will give you the ideal vehicle with which to communicate with your customers.

The right Wifi system will be able to send you, via an API link, notification in real time when a customer enters a store (or even what department they are in). This gives you the ability to see what else you know about this customer, e.g. from previous visits, from web logs, from App data or from transaction and loyalty data. From this you can decide if a promotional or loyalty message would be appropriate, knowing that the customer is in your store and possibly even which department they are in (rules in the system would prevent “spamming” customers with too many messages).

This will allow you to influence their buying behaviour, i.e. make more sales, and therefore put real cash into your tills, allowing you to show an ROI on your Wi-Fi investment.

This can also be extended into influencing which brands are promoted to individual customers.

For example, The Real Time system sees the following behaviour –

Graham Cove buys multiple bottles of Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but only when it is on special offer. The system checks to see if it is on offer at this store today, it isn’t. The system decides to send Graham a special offer by text – “buy more than 4 bottles today and get £4.00 off per bottle” The system also sees that Graham sometimes buys Villa Maria or Oyster Bay when they are on offer.

Through a Google AdWords type system it invites the 3 suppliers to bid for the right to promote their wine to Graham.

All of this is done in fractions of a second, allowing the offer to be put to Graham whilst he is still in the wine aisle.

All of these propositions, and many more, are available to Retailers today, however they are not being promoted by the major Wifi operators, hence Marketing Directors at major Retailers are generally unaware of the power that their Wifi system holds.

  • Finance Initiatives

Mobile Payments, such as Apple Pay and ZAPP enable Smartphones to be used instead of contactless credit cards. Phase 2 of these launches will see Retailers using staff held tablets to take payments anywhere in a store (as seen in Apple stores today). Suddenly transactions will be reliant on a high availability, secure Wifi Network with good maintenance SLA’s, something not offered by current Public Wifi operators.

  • Operational Initiatives

Once such a high quality Wifi Infrastructure is in place many other systems can take advantage of it:-

  • Why have fixed telephones with wires? Wifi calling will allow all fixed phones and their wiring to be replaced.

  • CCTV Cameras can be located immediately, wherever needed, without wiring.

  • Monitoring equipment, such as Fridge Temperatures, can be Wifi rather than wired.

Retailers with existing Wifi installations or considering it for the first time need to consider and check with their selected Wifi network provider a number of important factors including:

  • Do I want the service to have my branding or the providers? (the 3 main UK providers usually want their SSID and branding)

  • Will I get permission to market to my customers or does the provider retain this right?

  • Will I own the Data or will the provider, and can I get real time alerts to drive my CRM system?

  • What analytics will I get – will they allow me to make improvements to my operations?

  • Check T&C’s give you permission to market to your customers

  • Is there a validated (via SMS) Mobile number for each customer – can additional e-mail / social media data also be collected?

In summary, retail store owners should take control of and own their Wifi infrastructure. While offering in-store Public Wifi, they should maximise the infrastructure in place to cost-effectively deploy an array of customer facing mobile marketing, engagement, loyalty, payments and operational applications. This can only be good for business and customers.

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