A 2015 survey by Econsultancy, 'Trends in the Retail Sector', showed the following five main opportunity areas highlighted by retailers.

  1. Improving customer experience – 23%
  2. Personalisation – 21%
  3. Mobile – 18%
  4. Multichannel – 10%
  5. Big data – 9%

How to take advantage of these opportunities must be perplexing for many retail marketing directors. To hit the personalisation and mobile opportunities many retailers have been trialling beacons, requiring customer apps and yet more technology deployed in store, but with limited success so far.

But little do most of these retail marketing directors know they probably already have an infrastructure in their stores that can take advantage of all five of these opportunities. This is their public Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, however, public Wi-Fi in retailers is typically the preserve of the IT director, rather than the marketing director, who remains blissfully unaware of the value it can create.

To progress in all of these opportunity areas a retailer only needs to: -

  • Gain permission from their customers to market to them in return for providing free Wi-Fi in their stores
  • Validate their customers’ mobile phone numbers in the initial registration
  • Set up a real time feed from the WiFi authentication platform to a "real-time, rules-based marketing engine"
  • Next time a customer enters a store they can look up what they know about that customer using multiple data sources [from other interactions, web / app, transactional data etc.] and decide whether to engage with them – knowing that they are currently in store
  • If they decide to send a relevant promotion to that customer, they may be able to influence the value of that customer’s basket

The marketing director will then have improved the customer shopping experience by personalising the engagement with them via their mobiles and have used big data and other channel interactions in the process, and all without having to invest in new infrastructure in their stores.

Most of the marketing directors in the larger UK retailers are currently fixated on their pricing strategies against the discounters and virtually all have simply opened up their public Wi-Fi with single click access, taking no marketing permission from their customers.

In 2012, whilst director of marketing for EE, we installed public Wi-Fi in Asda, gained marketing permissions from their customers and validated their mobile numbers, on initial registration. They are now likely to have permission to engage with over three million customers in the way described above, however, to my knowledge they have not implemented any of these strategies as marketing attention has been focused elsewhere.

In contrast, the convenience sector is just beginning to look at providing Wi-Fi in their stores and seem much more inclined to innovate rather than just follow the big retailers. As well as the above proposition they are also looking at areas such as mobile geo-fencing campaigns to drive customers into stores. These retailers may well become the ground breakers who show the big boys the value of what they are missing in their public Wi-Fi infrastructures.

Graham Cove is an expert in Public Wi-Fi for the retail and hospitality sectors. He currently represents Synaptix Technologies, a UK provider of managed Venue Wi-Fi services, and has previously worked at  two of the largest Wi-Fi operators in the UK, as director of EE Wi-Fi and UK managing director of The Cloud (Sky).

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