The Influence of Retail Wi-Fi During the Holidays

Posted on December 20, 2012

With the holidays on the horizon, shopping and retail traffic is predictably on the rise and is expected to continue, at least through the new year.  This is a time when retailers large and small entice shoppers by offering incentives to get them in the doors and making purchases.  Here in the United States, the shopping frenzy typically begins after the Thanksgiving holiday, or what Americans refer to as “Black Friday.”  Elsewhere around the world, the holiday buying rush begins around the same time.  The influx of traffic gives retailers a valuable opportunity to reach their consumers, not just through traditional in-store means such as signage and other gimmicks, but through the use of technology, and more specifically, in-store Wi-Fi.

Devicescape, through its Curated Virtual Network, is able to monitor millions of public hotspots around the world, including these amenity-based retail hotspots.  In fact, last year we wrote a couple blog posts about the impact of Wi-Fi at selected retailers around the holiday shopping season.

Take a look at our posts on the topic, one written by myself and the other penned by Devicescape Chief Technology Officer John Gordon:

What Black Friday means to the Wi-Fi world

Black Friday: The Data

It won’t be a huge surprise to see that retail Wi-Fi connectivity has spiked again this season.  In fact, we can only surmise that it will grow significantly in the near term as retailers begin to capitalize on their in-store wireless infrastructure.

There are clear signs in the retail industry that Wi-Fi is being implemented to add value to the shopping experience.  Earlier this year, United Colors of Benetton extended its internal, staff-only Wi-Fi network to customers in its UK stores.  The need to open the network to all became evident when there were a number of promotions and events that required temporary internet access within the venue.  Stores already had basic connectivity due to some routers previously installed, but there were no security protocols in place.  The retailer enlisted an outside vendor to implement a cloud-based managed Wi-Fi solution that could be controlled by the company’s IT department.  Through this tool, Benetton was able to monitor connectivity and performance at each location.  This added service to consumers also proved to be a valuable marketing vehicle to in-store traffic.  Once within range inside a store, a customer accessing the network is automatically taken to a company landing page or a specific promotional opportunity.

The Benetton case study is a great example of retail Wi-Fi deployment at minimal cost, but with maximum return.  The benefits are to both consumers, who receive the added benefit of internet connectivity, and the retailer, who can now leverage a marketing channel to reach their consumer and potentially upsell them with additional products or services.

Since Devicescape’s technology monitors Wi-Fi usage and metrics at public hotspots, it is simple to glean additional insights from the data.  Similar to last year, John Gordon, Devicescape’s CTO, was able to illustrate the uptick in Wi-Fi traffic that U.S. retailers experienced the week of Black Friday.

Although it’s obvious that November 22nd (Thanksgiving Day in the United States) and November 23rd show a marked change in traffic, it’s more interesting to note which retailers saw the biggest percent change.  Pacific Sunwear saw a 168% increase in connections to Wi-Fi on the day after Thanksgiving.  One can assume that they had a strong post-Thanksgiving promotion that brought consumers into the store.  Secondly, their demographic targets young consumers, presumably a number of kids and teens on limited family data share plans, increasing the need to connect to Wi-Fi and minimize overages.  It’s also interesting to note that the connections also increased the day before Thanksgiving.  We’re seeing many retailers start holiday promotions early to capitalize on advanced sales prior to the Friday surge.

Connections to Wi-Fi is not an accurate measure of actual foot traffic in a venue, as Devicescape can only monitor those consumers that have our software on their mobile device.  But the data at least gives us a general measurement of activity.  More importantly, it can give the retailer a baseline they can use to strategize and deploy in-store promotions and events via their wireless networks.  Targeted mobile-based promotions via Wi-Fi continue to be adopted by retailers, as in the case of Benetton, and will serve as an additional outreach channel.

Large scale retail Wi-Fi deployments are also increasing around the globe.  In February 2012, Westfield and Cafaro malls in the United States announced they will soon offer venue Wi-Fi courtesy of Boingo Wireless.  This initiative will allow shoppers to gain Wi-Fi access through their mobile devices when entering the venue.  Retailers are recognizing that consumers always have a device on hand and that they have the opportunity to capitalize on that fact by tailoring and enhancing shoppers’ experience.  According to a Deloitte survey of 1,557 smartphone owners, people who use their smartphone in that retailer are 14% more likely to make a purchase there.  And if they visit the store website or app while inside, the likelihood of purchases increases to 33%. Although mobile marketing is still a relatively new concept, it is clear that it has value to the retailers from a revenue perspective.

We can reasonably expect retail Wi-Fi to continue growing in the coming year as smartphone adoption mounts and consumers become ever more attached to using their mobile devices to navigate their world.  Increasing foot traffic, generating more revenue and differentiating one’s business from a competitor continue to be core challenges for retailers.  Adding an incentive like Wi-Fi, which is low cost, can only enhance the overall user and shopping experience.  The benefit to the retailer is another channel through which they can market to customers.  Retailers can also gain insights from user experience to strategize future in-store marketing activities.  And as a consumer, as long as we can have access to Wi-Fi without impacting our smartphone data cap, or our shopping experience, we should all hope retail Wi-Fi continues to grow.