A few years ago, retail Wi-Fi was chiefly an internal tool to make inventory counting simpler. Today, retailers use Wi-Fi to power all manner of internal and customer-facing applications, and guest Wi-Fi access is becoming a basic expectation for shoppers. Stores that do retail Wi-Fi right can improve:
- The customer experience by letting customers stay connected while they shop
- The store app experience by ensuring that, when customers use your app in your stores, they’re not relying on a cell signal you can’t control
- The bottom line by using Wi-Fi location analytics to understand your customers shopping journey and identify prime locations are for promotions while optimizing your overall store layout
What happens though when retailers don’t do Wi-Fi right? Here are the top five things to think about to avoid retail Wi-Fi “gotchas.”
Bad retail Wi-Fi is worse than no Wi-Fi at all.
One common mistake in the early years of retail Wi-Fi was to underestimate capacity requirements for guest access. Too many retailers viewed opening up Wi-Fi to customers as an afterthought. “I don’t need to provide top-of-the-line performance,” the thinking went, “as long as people can get connected, they’ll be fine.” But this is the opposite of how shoppers think.
If there’s no Wi-Fi at a store, and customers can’t get smartphone apps to load, they figure it’s just a bad cell signal. Offer Wi-Fi though, and the game changes. Now, if they can’t connect or performance is poor, it’s your fault. You’ve set your customers up for a great experience and failed to deliver—which sticks in their minds much more than if you never promised anything in the first place.
There are no cookie cutter solutions.
Retailers with many locations do their best to keep everything consistent. After all, when technology is exactly the same at every store, deploying and managing it becomes much easier. The problem is, Wi-Fi signals are notoriously sensitive to the surrounding environment, and stores are just not physically the same from one location to another. Construction materials, nearby sources of interference, even the products on the shelves can attenuate Wi-Fi signals. So, Location A might need only eight access points for good coverage, but Location B may need 10.
When it comes to retail Wi-Fi performance, seconds matter.
Innovative retailers are using Wi-Fi to power mobile applications for associates, such as mobile checkout anywhere in the store, or providing more detail on products (and even customers) with assisted selling apps. Those solutions can deliver great experiences for customers and staff—provided they consistently perform well, even under peak load. If it takes a second or two to pull up a customer profile, that can be useful, but don’t expect customers to stand around waiting. They’re not comparing your application refresh times to other stores—they’re comparing it with how long it takes to call an Uber. That’s the standard you have to meet.
More bandwidth may not solve the problem.
When retailers face these issues, their first instinct is often to throw more bandwidth at them. After all, Gigabit Wi-Fi must be faster than what I have now, right? Well, not necessarily. If your super-fast Wi-Fi is connecting to an older store network infrastructure, that network may not be able to get anywhere near top Wi-Fi speeds, especially at peak loads.
Great retail Wi-Fi requires SD-WAN intelligence.
Wi-Fi can do amazing things for your business. But the more customers and employees use it, the more applications and devices you have competing for the same limited bandwidth. You need a way to understand what’s happening on your store network at any given moment and prioritize those applications where performance matters most. You need software-defined WAN (SD-WAN).
Modern SD-WAN solutions feature fine-grained application awareness down to the level of each individual session. They provide the intelligence to respond in real-time to constantly changing loads and application mixes. They can ensure that every application gets the capacity it needs, every transaction goes through, and every customer using guest access has a great experience in your store.
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