How much does in-store Wi-Fi mean to shoppers?

Jan 19, 2015

According to a study from EarthLink Holdings Corp., 27.5 percent of retailers reported increased customer loyalty due to in-store Wi-Fi.

The study found that 82 percent of large to medium-sized retail participants have already deployed in-store Wi-Fi, although only 57 percent offer both customer and employee Wi-Fi. Thirty-four percent plan to update their store level Wi-Fi technologies in 2015. Besides shoppers and associates, Wi-Fi expenditures are also being used to support payment systems, PCI compliance and security.

While mobile shopping appears to have gained significant traction this past holiday season, it’s uncertain how much shoppers are using smartphones as part of the in-store shopping experience.

One survey of U.S. consumers in early December conducted by PayPal found that 49 percent had used a mobile device to research deals while in-store.

On the other hand, a study released last week from Kantar Retail, "Winning the Retail Battle in 2015," found only 16 percent of U.K. shoppers frequently use their smartphone in-store to access information about products and prices. Just 15 percent appreciated being sent personalized offers by text, whether in or out of store. And only 22 percent of U.K. consumers polled felt all retailers should provide Wi-Fi in-store. Nevertheless, 62 percent of U.K. retailers polled said they were considering installing free Wi-Fi in their stores in 2015.

Retailers appear mixed about the value of in-store Wi-Fi for shoppers. Many of the larger chains offer the service but Macy’s is one of the few that promotes Wi-Fi to consumers with stickers on its entrances. J.C. Penney eliminated Wi-Fi in fall 2013 in a bid to save $7 million following the exit of Ron Johnson but has since added it back.

Gap Inc. added free Wi-Fi to more than 1,100 Gap, Gap Factory, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta U.S. stores this past holiday season. Said Gap in release last November, "Now, you can just take out your smartphone and shop straight from the fitting room, browse customer reviews or just jump online for fun. It’s now easier to access with free customer Wi-Fi."

How much appeal does in-store Wi-Fi offer to shoppers? Considering the rise in mobile shopping, should retailers do more to promote free Wi-Fi?

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15 Comments on "How much does in-store Wi-Fi mean to shoppers?"

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Liz Crawford

In-store Wi-Fi and the use of mobile devices to enhance the shopping experience is still a nascent movement. However, these early steps are essential for paving the way toward the future of retailing. And the future is anybody’s guess. I have to believe it will involve effortless integration of digital, augmented and physical spaces.

Marge Laney
2 years 8 months ago

In-store Wi-Fi means a lot more to retailers than the shoppers they are attempting to reach. Mapping the shopper journey and marketing directly to customers while they’re in-store using Wi-Fi is cheap pixie dust.

Unfortunately, I believe shopper fatigue is going to set in as they are bombarded with offers and information as they traverse their local mall. Head-down, small-screen experiences are not why consumers make the trip.

How silly is it to expect customers inside fitting rooms to communicate with sales associates on the sales floor via their phones? On a busy day, this would make the shopping experience small, slow and un-engaging.

Instead of emulating the 2-D online experience in-store, why not give customers the big, engaging 3-D experience they made the trip for in the first place?

Steve Montgomery

My first question is, how was the study conducted? Did EarthLink ask retailers who had already made the investment? If so, wouldn’t you expect them to say having Wi-Fi increased customer loyalty? If they did, how did they measure it? Because people signed in more frequently or because they bought something?

Given all the concerns about showrooming, I am not sure that adding Wi-Fi is a good or bad thing. That being said I expect retailers to continue to add it to their locations.

David Livingston
2 years 8 months ago

I’m not a big shopper but I do like Wi-Fi in the stores. I like going back to the DVD section to see what has been released and then ordering them up from the library. It’s very convenient for researching prices and products and comparing to Target has Wi-Fi and, Walmart I haven’t seen it. So I usually pick Target. I don’t think retailers need to promote it but simply just have it. I really hate going to McDonald’s but a lot of times while traveling I will go anyway because they have quick easy internet connections to catch up on work. It is not only important to have Wi-Fi but to have a fast reliable connection.

Zel Bianco

Maybe it’s because I do most of my shopping in a major city, but I sincerely hope this does not catch on. People wandering crowded stores with their eyes glued to their phones would make the shopping experience significantly more uncomfortable.

Also I just don’t see how this would be truly useful or relevant to the shopper. Plus the majority of the tech-savvy shoppers whom this might appeal to are going to be well aware of how much data they are handing over to the retailer in exchange for “free” Wi-Fi.

Ed Rosenbaum

It is a sign of the times. You can’t go anywhere without having or thinking you need Wi-Fi. I am not one of those people (yet). But I can see the change everywhere now. We are under the impression that whatever it is we are doing it is so important that we can’t afford to be without the service.

Can you imagine putting a group of people in a room and taking their electronic devices away? They actually might have to be verbal.

Ralph Jacobson

Very soon, in-store Wi-Fi will be a basic expectation. In the mean time, especially in fast-growth regions internationally, promotion of this service should only improve the differentiation as retailers add this feature. For now, I think Wi-Fi is a “nice-to-have” and not a “need-to-have” capability. It’s simply a luxury for now. As more critical functions are added to mobile device apps, Wi-Fi will become a necessity.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

For Gen Y, Wi-Fi is a basic expectation. For other shoppers, Wi-Fi is appreciated and will become a basic expectation. That does not mean consumers expect to be bombarded with more messages or offers as they shop. It does mean that consumers expect to be connected ALWAYS so they can search and connect when they want for their own purposes. Retailers are talking about providing experiences to make shopping in-store attractive. Retailers that do not make Wi-Fi available will be less competitive and attractive to shoppers.

Ryan Mathews

Free Wi-Fi will soon be ubiquitous, so retailers may soon have little choice but to add it. That raises an interesting question: Should you promote something that consumers assume you already offer, or should already offer?

As to Zel’s concern, I see plenty of people stumbling around stores (without Wi-Fi) today. It’s becoming—for better or worse—the way of the world.

Brian Numainville

It is really about maintaining a level of connectivity for consumers. Personally, I like to be connected and find it almost annoying when a retailer doesn’t have free Wi-Fi (and then there are hotels that charge a premium—let’s not go there…). Ultimately, not sure it will be worth of promotion as it will continue to become more and more of an expectation versus some praiseworthy addition to services offered.

Lee Kent

I’m not so keen on in-store Wi-Fi as a shopping enhancer, per se. I believe retail will figure out how to communicate with their customers, possibly using Wi-Fi as well as other technology, but on their own larger screen devices.

But, let’s look at things a little differently. What if you are a mom on the go, with kids in tow, and you need to buy yourself an outfit. Pull that iPad out of your pocketbook, sit little Johnny down in the dressing room and voila! And, how about those impatient spouses who would rather be anywhere else? Same scenario.

So, yes, I do see a rise in in-store Wi-Fi for my 2 cents.

Shep Hyken

Wi-Fi is nice, but it’s not the end. Free Wi-Fi means more to a consumer in a coffee shop or restaurant than in a retail store. Most people who are mobile shopping are using their smartphones, versus a laptop PC or even a tablet. So, their phones can connect regardless of Wi-Fi. That said, it’s a bonus to have the free Wi-Fi to eliminate data charges.

Wi-Fi can also be used to communicate with the customer when they are in your store. Special offers can be messaged to the customer. Wi-Fi allows you to track your customer, with their permission of course!

All of that said, offering Wi-Fi is going to be the norm. It’s not so much that it will be expected. It’s just going to be normal. Like a hotel that has a towel in the bathroom—it’s expected and always there. It’s not a perk. It’s normal. And, it’s the same with Wi-Fi. It will be the norm, not an unexpected perk.

James Tenser

This discussion is very interesting because it challenges us to reconsider our assumptions about in-store Wi-Fi for shoppers. Is it a shopping “enhancer,” a promotion channel, or primarily a convenience that mobile-connected customers have come to count on?

Remember Tenser’s Law: “A customer service standard that can be experienced anywhere is expected anywhere.”

While I am an advocate of providing Wi-Fi to shoppers for this reason, I am skeptical about its reported link to shopper loyalty. In-Store Wi-Fi is already a minimum service standard, not an enhancement. Absence of connectivity in the store may turn shoppers off, but its presence is merely expected. Yes, put the sticker by the front door, but don’t expect too much credit.

If you crave shopper love, you have to build experiences that matter. If Wi-Fi happens to figure in to the equation, so be it. Wi-Fi today is no more or less important than good lighting. Essential but not differential.

Larry Negrich

Retailers offering free Wi-Fi as a basic customer service without tying it to some in-store promotion, offering, or service seems like unneeded spending. Most people are already connected via their mobile provider. Coffee shops, restaurants, car repair centers—where there are waits that consumers fill by using the internet—justify free Wi-Fi as a convenience. Other retail environments should find ways to leverage their offering of Wi-Fi to justify the expense. And unless the store requires some sort of identification/login/use of store app to get onto the Wi-Fi, then the consumer is still anonymous and no additional communication is facilitated.

gordon arnold

Free Wi-Fi isn’t always easy on. Many stores compel the user to sign on even with the smartphone auto features turned on. In the store access is largely a benefit for the average employees and not consumers. For the most part, in and out consumers are tuning into the net via 3G and 4G services. The brick and mortar stores might be better offering an easy on thin client that can offer special deals through the company site. While this may be shunned by most, the benefits are many as in loyalty program and credit card auto enrollment options and a tailored functional electronic coupon that woks at checkout from the store and/or vendors. In short, thinking “inside the box” has benefits yet to be explored or exploited.


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