November 5, 2013, 5:09 PM

Free in-store Wi-Fi is the cost of doing business

Store retailers must meet customers’ expectations.

Lead Photo

For one hour of the 168 hours every week, I am without the use of my iPhone. And I hate it. And all that negative energy rubs off on my opinion of the damn grocery store I visit every week, the store that is a mobile black hole when it comes to wireless data signal and even wireless voice signal. The place must be lined in lead! I feel like I need a Valium just to get through the hour. Fortunately, a new grocery store is being built not too far away, and I guarantee you we’ll be checking it out as soon as it opens.

Smartphone owners do not like to be severed from the Internet, having their mobile web browsers and apps rendered impotent. Most of the time they are connected to the web via 2G, 3G or 4G connections offered by their wireless carriers. But sometimes they find themselves in interior locations where their 2G, 3G or 4G signals can’t get through, as is the case in my grocery store. That’s why store retailers have to offer free in-store Wi-Fi, and promote it.

64% of all U.S. mobile phone users own a smartphone, Nielsen reports. 68% of smartphone owners will use their phones for 2013 holiday shopping, Deloitte finds: 54% will compare prices, 47% will obtain product information, 44% will read customer reviews, 36% will search for and use coupons and discounts, 32% will scan a bar code to obtain more information, and 29% will access social networks.

What’s more, 43% of consumers who own smartphones with Wi-Fi capabilities use Wi-Fi every single day, mobile technology vendor Kineto Wireless finds. That includes at home or at work, but the point is, these consumers are accustomed to having Wi-Fi access.

If you’re a store retailer, you have to know that your customers want to access the web and apps while shopping. Yes, many will engage in showrooming, using a store to touch and feel products only to buy the products on mobile or later online. But more are looking for information and help to make a purchase in your store. In Q2 2013, 57% of smartphone users visited the site or app of the retailer whose store they were in, compared with 43% who consulted another retailer’s site or app, research firms comScore Inc. and The Partnering Group find.

“Retailers have an immediate opportunity to proactively encourage shoppers to use in-store Wi-Fi and engage with the retailer’s mobile-enabled web sites and apps,” says Peter Leech, managing director and retail practice leader at The Partnering Group, “It’s a big opportunity to capture those eyeballs before they seek an alternate source of product detail and pricing information on another retailer’s mobile offering.”

Retailers should give customers greater access to the information and functionality they need to make and act on a buying decision—if they do, retailers will inspire shoppers to visit stores more often, and buy in the store, where up-selling is easier, says mobile commerce technology vendor Usablenet Inc. in a new report with fresh survey data, which the company will release later this week. For store retailers, the key to this is to provide free Wi-Fi in the store, which enables an open channel with which to engage customers, Usablenet says.

And according to a recent study from marketing and research firm Acquity Group, 50% of smartphone owners would feel more confident making a major purchase when free in-store Wi-Fi is available. What’s more, with free Wi-Fi, 30% of smartphone owners would be more likely to browse additional items not on their list and 20% would spend more time in a store.

“Retailers are looking for ways to increase in-store sales, while also pushing online spend in an age of showrooming, but several are eliminating some of the best opportunities to drive a greater amount of in-store revenue,” says Chip Knicker, vice president of e-commerce at Acquity Group. “In-store Wi-Fi not only allows retailers to keep consumers in-store longer, making them more likely to purchase, but also helps tie in the consistent user experience across channels that today’s consumers expect.”

Free in-store Wi-Fi helps customers and retailers. For smart store retailers, it’s table stakes.

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