not providing WiFi access means that customers carrying smartphones and tablets have to use the cellular network. Big steel framed warehouse stores are cheap to build, fine for selling stuff – but they are hell on wheels for cell signals. So retail customers are comparison shopping on the wireless internet, but are frustrated by weak signals and slow speeds. Frustrated customers are a bad thing, and encouraging them to leave the store to get a better signal is even worse!
Next, it turns out that one of the biggest reasons that someone doesn’t buy a TV or power tool is not that it is $10 cheaper somewhere else, it is that we are afraid it might be $100 cheaper. Once a potential buyer does a little checking and sees that there are no big savings to be had, the uncertainty has been removed. And most of us can’t be bothered to drive a few kilometres in order to save a few bucks. New behavioural analyses are showing that mobile internet comparison shopping can increase sales.
Finally, when you give customers free WiFi, a retailer gets other benefits. Consumers spend more time in the store. They can access the store portal more easily and watch bandwidth intensive content like video demonstrations, tutorials or graphics rich catalogues, which would be difficult over cellular. They can find items more easily, learn about products, and free up sales associates. Even potentially more interesting – although a subject rife with all kinds of privacy issues – retailers may be able to glean information from the web sites the customers choose to visit. If I am selling home renovation supplies, knowing who my customers perceive as my biggest competitor for power tools is invaluable information.
I may as mention that I've just posted this from L'espresso Bar Mercurio, at Bloor and St. George, a fantastic coffee bar that's made me a semi-regular visitor for its incredibly personally convenient location at the end of the bus line that passes by me, its superb French press coffee, and--yes--the WiFi. L'chaim.