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Three quarters of major UK retailers do not offer free instore wi-fi – and are missing out on vital customer data – finds new research

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76% of major UK retailers do not offer free in-store wi-fi, according to new research from mobile marketing agency Sponge, and so are losing out on collecting rich data about their consumers that they can use to engage with them.

Sponge surveyed 117 retailers with multiple stores in central London, and found that just 28 give customers the ability to log on while shopping. While half of those that do offer free wi-fi are collecting customer data, a significant number of retailers are missing an opportunity to engage with people that shop in their stores.

Of the 28 retailers with free wi-fi, only 11 clearly communicated its availability with marketing material on display throughout shops.

“There’s an increasing amount of evidence that wi-fi is becoming an important part of the omni-channel service proposition for retailers,” said Dan Parker, CEO of Sponge. “It creates rich marketing opportunities, but hardly any are offering wi-fi and even less are telling customers and benefiting from its full potential. Encouraging people to register when they’re instore opens up a huge opportunity to offer something of value, increase shopper loyalty and repeat custom.”

Sponge’s research found that contemporary retail brands, such as Urban Outfitters and Topshop, offer wi-fi as a service as opposed to using it to collect customer data. There is minimal advertising and the sign-up process is mainly acceptance of terms and conditions rather than entering personal details. The user experience is very quick and the signal throughout stores tends to be strong.

Meanwhile, department stores and coffee shops including Debenhams and Pret A Manger provide a more involved wi-fi experience. A detailed registration process captures personal details, and these retailers place more of an emphasis on instore advertising.

John Lewis and Warehouse offer the best experience, according to the survey. The registration process is minimal, requesting only an email address, while advertising is clear but not too prominent and the signal strength is strong.

Overall, none of the retailers that capture customer data use it to directly engage with consumers.

“Retailers need to leverage free wi-fi – not communicating they even have it to customers seems negligent, and the sort of value exchange required to drive data quality is noticeably absent,” Parker continued. “We didn’t find any evidence of brands exploiting the channel to deliver immediately relevant and compelling content.”

Demand for free wi-fi is high. Recent industry research from high street wi-fi provider The Cloud revealed that 10.6 million Britons use its services in cafes, restaurants and bars every week, while one in ten smartphone users log on daily. Mobile advertising and data platform JiWire conducted a survey and found 94% of smartphone-empowered shoppers use their handsets instore; with 60% of these comparing prices.

Graham Cove, Director of WiFi for EE, commented on Sponge’s findings: “Properly deployed, wi-fi offers a three-way win for the shopper, the retailer and the provider. To help drive both sales and loyalty, providers need to allow retailer branding on-site and make it as easy as possible for them to access useable customer data.”

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