Wi-Fi’s Impact on M-commerce

Posted on November 23, 2011

The holidays are almost here and Black Friday, a retail phenomenon during the holiday season, signifies the kickoff of retail madness.  That day is slowly being overshadowed by Cyber Monday, the following Monday where retailers are encouraging customers to shop online.  As stores are trying to find other selling channels and methods to attract customers, mobile commerce is soon becoming relevant to the retail industry.

Now where does Wi-Fi fit in all of this?  Wi-Fi has already been a common staple in coffee shops and various eating establishments.  In fact, whenever one walks into a Starbucks or McDonalds, it’s almost expected to see someone browsing the internet on their laptop, tablet or smartphone.  Scanning the 5 million global hotspots in the Devicescape Virtual Network, I can see that’s it’s more than just coffee shops or fast food restaurants.    I’m surprised to learn that retailers like Home Depot, Macy’s and Safeway are constantly showing up in the network.

So what does this mean?  It means that Wi-Fi is more pervasive that we think.  It means that it’s not just in your home or at some select store.  It means that retailers are giving access to their Wi-Fi network to add customer value and provide another means of shopping within the store, whether it entail price checking, product availability or advertising opportunities.

In a recent Retail Gazette article, a UK phone retailer announced in-store Wi-Fi to allow customers to demo live web surfing when browsing smartphones.   Its actions like these that can make or break a sale.  If product demonstration isn’t the goal, how else can Wi-Fi be leveraged to provide a positive customer experience?  The obvious reasons are price checking and product comparisons but the hidden gem in in-store Wi-Fi is mobile marketing.  Imagine walking into a clothing store and all of a sudden receiving a discount offer on shoes or walking into a supermarket and receiving text coupons on your smartphone.  The ability to advertise, upsell and encourage consumers who walk through the doors and immediately connect to a retailer’s network is huge.

Getting consumers to understand that Wi-Fi is everywhere is undoubtedly a challenge.  But I think for that to happen, retailers will first need to be convinced that it will only add value, if not revenue to their businesses.  Without this penetration, we’ll go on to think that Wi-Fi is only a luxury meant for coffee houses and select restaurants.  Well, judging by the amount of people that buy coffee and sit in a Starbucks for hours on end, I’m sure management at this multi-billion dollar company isn’t complaining that they’re one of the few companies on the block getting people to walk through their doors to buy coffee and use their free Wi-Fi connection.  Time for retailers to take note!