What Black Friday means to the Wi-Fi world

Posted on December 1, 2011

Black Friday has come and gone.  As usual, the yearly craziness ensues such as all night shopping sprees, near-riots at retailers, and sadly, the occasional assault for merchandise or in this year’s case, pepper spray attacks.  Now, the craziness will only continue as Chanukah and Christmas are upon us.

Here at Devicescape we took it upon ourselves to analyze Wi-Fi usage and trends that emerged across our network during this year’s Black Friday frenzy. Since our virtual Wi-Fi network is made up of publically accessible Wi-Fi hotspots found around the world in places such as cafes, department stores, restaurants, hotels and airports to random shops that offer Wi-Fi as an amenity to their customers, we are able to track activity and connections within these available Wi-Fi network environments.

What did we find?

The obvious insight was that because of our millions of users, connections to in-store Wi-Fi spiked dramatically versus the week before.

While the rise in connectivity is interesting, what gets my attention are the stores that offer some type of Wi-Fi service.  Stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and Barnes and Nobles bubbled up to the top of our network location list.

So is it a surprise that these stores offer this kind of value add to their customers?

For the average consumer, it probably is a surprise. But when you think about it some more, it shouldn’t be.  Most stores already have the infrastructure to handle Wi-Fi which is most likely for their internal business needs.  Think about it.  When you see sales or stock associates with wireless handheld scanners, headsets, etc., that should be a clear sign that the technical infrastructure is in place.  All it takes is a decision by someone within corporate to “flip a switch” and turn on the guest Wi-Fi.

What is the benefit to the retailer and the consumer if in-store Wi-Fi is switched on?

For the retailer, it’s a few things.  Aside from business efficiencies, it keeps customers in the stores.  How many times have you walked in a large department store only to find that it’s a black hole where you get no cell service, email or data?  Connecting to the Wi-Fi alleviates this and keeps consumers shopping in their walls without having to leave to check their phone for messages and such.  The future value will eventually be in mobile advertising and incentives.  I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime in the near-term, it will be common place for a retailer to text a shopper walking through their doors with a coupon or promotional offering due to triggering the in-store Wi-Fi with their phone.

The benefit to consumers will be basic connectivity.  The ability to communicate through whatever means as well as the ability to web browse on their phone would be an added value.  Consumers can engage in product comparisons, price checking and potentially sharing deals via social media.

Below are a few retailers that popped up in our network location list whose in-store connectivity spiked on Black Friday:

  • Macy’s in store Wi-Fi usage increased over 500% on Black Friday
  • Nordstrom saw a 175% jump in connectivity
  • Staples in-store connectivity grew 58%
  • Barnes & Noble in-store Wi-Fi connections grew by 50%

A couple other interesting facts were that Home Depot displayed no significant change in connectivity even though they were promoting Black Friday deals.  Separately, Best Buy showed up for the first time in our network which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.  Shoppers trying to satiate their electronics fix would make Best Buy an obvious retailer to visit.

What does all this mean?  Aside from the simple fact that our millions of users aren’t always shopping online, these increases show the impact of overall foot traffic at these various large retailers.  More importantly, it shows that Wi-Fi isn’t just some coffee shop value add, it’s available almost everywhere we go as consumers.  Don’t be surprised if you head to your local mall and you automatically connect to a store’s Wi-Fi network.  For you it means continuous call and data connectivity.  For the retailer, it means customer retention and more sales.  For the wireless operator, it means they better get their affairs in order when it comes to offload strategy because the potential in costs savings is theirs for the taking if they leverage all of the available Wi-Fi at their disposal.  The major retailers that showed up on our network locations list is a clear indicator that it’s pervasive and more common than we tend to believe.    This list, as well as the connections that support it, will only continue to grow.