In my opinion: driving guest Wi-Fi uptake can help bridge the physical and digital retail divide, says Cloud4Wi

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Jeff Abramowitz, president of Cloud4Wi, says successful guest Wi-Fi has the potential to reshape the retail landscape, benefiting both shoppers and the business, but staff training is key to realising that goal

Abramowitz

Abramowitz: fusion of physical and digital

Rumours of the high street’s death have, it seems, been greatly exaggerated. For years now the demise of bricks and mortar stores has been ruefully anticipated, and yet midway through 2016 it’s clear that physical stores remain a critical part of the purchase journey, even as e-commerce continues to grow exponentially.

The reality is that, for all of the convenience and accessibility of online shopping, customers still feel a genuine desire to experience physical products in-person – to see, touch and try out merchandise without having to wait for products to be shipped, or without the risk of having to waste time and energy on returning unsuitable purchases.

Against this backdrop, the trend retailers are now observing is a fusion of physical and digital environments, with shoppers using mobile devices as they browse the high street to compare prices, research products and seek feedback on potential purchases from friends and peers via social media.

These customers want connectivity at all times – they certainly don’t want their mobile signal dropping off as they reach the changing rooms or move further from the store entrance. To satisfy this demand, it’s clear that more and more retailers are now looking to provide free and secure in-store internet access via their existing Wi-Fi networks. What’s less clear, however, is how many of them see Wi-Fi provision simply as a reluctant necessity as opposed to a genuine competitive advantage.

What smart retailers are now realising is that advanced guest Wi-Fi offers a long-term opportunity to increase customer engagement and satisfaction, and gain insights into shopper behaviour and preferences. As part of a comprehensive retail experience that bridges the physical and digital environments, guest Wi-Fi has the potential to reshape the retail landscape, benefiting both shoppers and the business.

By requiring customers to log into a welcome portal, businesses can find out who they are, how much time they spend using the service and what promotions and special offers might be interesting to them. Furthermore, it’s possible to gain location/presence analytics without the customer even logging in, providing insight into visitor numbers, how they’re navigating the facilities or whether they’ve used the Wi-Fi service before.

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Wi-Fi offers an opportunity to increase customer engagement and gain insights into shopper preferences

However, successful guest Wi-Fi involves more than just technology. It also requires training staff to provide customers with exceptional support. A focus on training may seem obvious to retailers already focused on customer satisfaction. Yet the staff themselves may not understand how delivering excellent Wi-Fi services can be as important as providing great customer service. Furthermore, a great many retailers miss a trick by failing to actually promote the services they’ve invested in. Guest Wi-Fi will only ever be of limited value if customers don’t know about it.

Here are some best practices retailers should keep in mind for educating staff about guest Wi-Fi and promoting the offering in-store to customers:

  1. Describe and demonstrate to customers how to access the Wi-Fi network, including account creation and login requirements. Retailers should spend time with staff creating demonstration accounts until everyone is clear on how to help customers get online in their store
  2. Make the training a standard part of new hire onboarding and ongoing education for all staff so that they become genuine ambassadors for the service
  3. Explain security features to staff so that they can reassure customers that their information is safe. Retailers should never promise privacy they can’t deliver
  4. Retailers should make sure their network ID is easily associated with their store. Retailers must pick the most obvious (and shortest) name that makes sense.
  5. Retailers should also strategically use in-store promotions – especially at the main entrance – so customers know guest Wi-Fi is available. It is important to show the network name on signage, window clings and other promotional displays.
  6. Retailers should also promote their privacy policy. The privacy policy should clearly state how customer information will be used. A reassuring “we will not loan, rent, or sell customer information to anyone” can do wonders. Retailers can offer privacy options at initial sign-up, so shoppers have a choice.

Guest Wi-Fi’s unique ability to create an in-store digital experience that drives engagement and gathers actionable customer behaviour data can open new doors for retailers and lead to increased opportunities to grow business.  But while the Wi-Fi itself can offer exceptional in-store service to customers, this is meaningless without a similarly high standard of customer service from the most vital of in-store retail assets – the staff themselves.

Jeff Abramowitz is president of technology provider Cloud4Wi, which helps brands get more out of their Wi-Fi networks to provide superior on-site mobile experiences and gain valuable insights.

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(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)