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John Lewis brings free wifi to its stores to offer all the benefits of m-commerce to shoppers in deal with BT Openzone

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John Lewis is set to become the first UK department store retailer to offer free wifi access to customers in its shops nationwide, following similar moves by McDonalds and Tesco as major retailers start to look at extending online retail into stores using mobiles and their own networks.

According to the department store’s own stats, more than 60% of its customers research products online before visiting a shop to make a purchase and in-store wifi access will allow them to continue and complete that journey, accessing product information and viewing ratings and reviews to influence their purchase.

Customers will be able to surf all areas of the internet including competitors’ sites to compare prices, reinforcing John Lewis’s pricing promise to be “Never Knowingly Undersold”. It will also be used by the company’s staff (or more accurately its partners) to deliver better customer service.

Alongside this, Digital Champions will be in each branch to help customers to shop online as part of John Lewis’s commitment to Race Online, the government initiative to encourage people to use the internet.

The wifi access will be supplied by BT Openzone and will allow wireless connectivity to the internet for John Lewis shoppers via any wireless-enabled PC, tablet, or smartphone. It is free to all customers who register once with an email address. It gives shoppers in all areas of John Lewis shops faster access to and the internet than when using 3G, says the store. It also provides access to the! John Lewis mobile site, including My John Lewis and the Wish List which will automatically sync between a customer’s home PC and their mobile in-store.

John Lewis is also developing an iPhone App to further enhance customers’ in-store shopping experience. The App, which will launch shortly, has a number of features to help customers access John Lewis online assortment, product reviews and video quickly and easily in-store.

John Lewis IT Director Paul Coby explains: “This is a major development in John Lewis’s vision for multi-channel retail. We have made great progress with online which is now growing at between 25% and 30% compared to last year and amounts to circa 20% of our revenue. We know our customers are mobile and want to be connected anywhere, anytime and any place. This of course means in John Lewis shops and we are committed to providing that connectivity and easy access to our fantastic assortment through our customers’ smart phones, iPhones and iPads.”

John Lewis Head of Multi-Channel Simon Russell said: “We recognise that mobile phones have become a crucial part of people’s shopping habits. The roll-out of WiFi in our shops is a big step forward in helping customers to have all of the information they need at their fingertips to make an informed purchase.”

Chris Bruce, CEO, BT Openzone, said: “Using free Wi-Fi to engage and excite shoppers, John Lewis will undoubtedly increase brand affinity and business. It’s an exciting time to be involved in retail marketing.”

Julia Priddle, Head of Key Account Management, ChannelAdvisor adds: “Introducing free in-store Wifi for customers is a great move by John Lewis. With mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets playing an ever greater role in shopping habits, retailers should be looking for ways that they can embrace these changes and use them to help deliver value and convenience to customers – whether they are shopping in their stores, online from home, or indeed online from within their stores.

We still hear stories of some retailers deliberating blocking in-store internet access or covering up barcodes on products to prevent shoppers from checking online prices using their mobile phones. This is clearly short-sighted and ultimately will drive customers elsewhere. By introducing this kind of initiative John Lewis is clearly looking to put their customers first and I’m sure they’ll reap the rewards in the long run.”

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