3 things to consider when upgrading WiFi for retail

retail shop windowShoppers today are no longer just confined to the brick-and-mortar retail experience. When retail customers walk into a store, they have more tools at their fingertips to access online shopping comparisons, store lookup, product search, online reviews and more, all via Wi-Fi on smartphones or other mobile devices. In this article, we’ll take a look at the top reasons brick-and-mortar retailers should open their stores for in-store Wi-Fi and confidently pursue new opportunities with the right Wi-Fi solution. Not only can they enhance their customers’ shopping experience with their brand, they can also use Wi-Fi to gather valuable insight into purchase behaviors to drive sales and improve operational effectiveness.

A 2012 study conducted by IBM surveyed shoppers in eight mature and seven growth economies (Winning over the empowered consumer: Why trust matters, IBM 2012) and found that 45 percent of consumers use two or more device technologies to shop and make buying decisions, typically a PC-based laptop and a mobile device. Customers today have multiple online outlets to shop in addition to the stores and expect a seamless experience in terms of placing the order, pickup-and-delivery and exchanges-and-return in any combination of outlets. Mobile connectivity is an essential part of this shopping experience wherever the customer happens to be to access product content, do comparisons and read community feedback in real-time.

The right Wi-Fi network is the need of the hour for the retailers to connect the stores, warehouses, distribution centers and contact centers to support the deluge of mobile devices, transform the shopping experience and ignite new levels of customer brand loyalty.

First up: Empowering Customers to Self-Service in Store

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The most successful retailers realize the value of in-store Wi-Fi for providing comprehensive coverage and Internet access for customers. By deploying a Wi-Fi guess access solution, retailers give customers the ability to check product details, check gift registry and availability in the aisle.

Once they are in your store, the convenience of being able to order or purchase immediately helps increase-shopping satisfaction, avail personalized offers and loyalty programs and use mobile device for way finding and navigation. With the customers in the store network, retailers can encourage the use of the store website or a mobile app to avail online services, participate in online community and promote on social media websites.

The number of people carrying a device with active Wi-Fi has reached a point at which there is a statistically significant sample of people in a store at any given time. Depending on the store and customer demographics, typically 40 percent to 70 percent of all visitors are carrying a phone with Wi-Fi that can be measured. The right wireless network and analytics software can use Wi-Fi signals to accurately represent total foot traffic inside and around the store. With analytics software, retailers can transform the in-store Wi-Fi into a consumer analytics tool for optimizing retail operations and maximizing per-store revenue:

• Optimize capture rate: Optimize the capture rate to generate thousands of dollars in additional sales per day, per store. Identify shopping applications that customers use and collect numbers of walk-by customers, visits, and percentages of people that come inside the store.

• Increase duration rates: Track visit durations and identify shoppers staying longer than 30 minutes to evaluate engagements. Use this data to tailor the sales process and improve in-store operations.

• Improve service levels: Monitor line lengths, sales associate availability, and wait times to improve service levels.

• Improve engagement with customers: Analytics data lets you track traffic patterns, assess promotional effectiveness, personalize in-store coupon and “specials” when customer is in the store, and capture data for maximizing social media effectiveness.

• Enhance customer loyalty: Track visit and walk-by frequency, repeat visits, and recent visits to identify premier customers and develop program for increasing loyalty.

Second – Customer retention, loyalty, POS + Line-Busting

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Many retailers believe that a mobility strategy is important to enhancing their brand and customer loyalty. In-store Wi-Fi helps retailers better integrate their sales channels. For example, they can implement features such as shipping products to the nearest store or the customer’s home, and unify a shopper’s shopping cart.

Data gathered across channels provides a more holistic view of the customer and increases opportunities for upselling and cross selling. In retailers’ lexicon, this unification of channel is referred to as Omni channel integration and Wi-Fi is a key technology enabler for implementation. With Omni channel integration through Wi-Fi, stores can stay connected with the customer reducing the risk of incomplete purchases and build loyalty through flexible channel offerings.

Third – Mobile Point-Of-Sale + Line Busting

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Mobile’s greatest asset is perhaps the anytime, anywhere model. But when it comes to retail, there is no location more important than right by the customer’s side. An increasing number of retailers are focused on providing constant shopper attention using Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices to attend to questions, provide customer service and complete the purchase transaction.

This empowerment of the store employees to leave the checkout aisles and be next to the customer to complete a transaction is essentially what retailers call “line busting”. Customer shopping experience is vastly improved when the transaction is completed with a mobile point-of-sale device over Wi-Fi network, meets the privacy and PCI compliance mandates and eliminates the time that is generally wasted standing in the line.

Top 3 considerations for Retailers

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1. Design your retail network around the context – devices, users and applications

Optimizing the retail network for mobility is key to servicing tech-savvy shoppers and meets the influx of devices & applications into the network.

This essentially means implementing a network that takes into account the context of devices, user & privileges, location, applications used and the time duration. In other words, make your network elastic to respond to the varying conditions of the context in the network based on the day of the week, seasonality, major retail events and store-based promotions.

2. Ensure security and PCI compliance is at the edge and user-centric

User identity and privileges is centric to network access, VLAN or Wi-Fi SSID association, security policy definition in the firewall, VPN tunnel or application security.

Users and user groups define the definition of QOS policies for traffic management, determine the service-level at different parts of the network and overall security policy framework. This paradigm stems from the fact that a given user especially a store employee or staff is no longer restricted to a single device, or a location in the store or to network access confined by SSID and VLAN Ids. Enforcing security and thus, meet PCI-DSS compliance is entirely hinged on the network edge where the users connect.

3. Unify Retail Wired and Wireless Management for Optimized Application

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Striking a balance between a wired and wireless network infrastructure and deployment aids to the bottom-line of a retail organization. Integrating and rightsizing the wired & wireless network for efficient utilization, optimum capacity and balanced planning of wired ports versus wireless access goes towards a cost-effective IT for Retail. With the right network platform, you can choose an integrated access infrastructure with deep visibility to users & applications in the network, monitor centrally and optimize the operational efficiency for an elegantly designed retail network to embrace the mobile users.

In summary, Wi-Fi as a network connectivity option along with the proliferation of myriad mobile devices has dramatically transformed the retail landscape. Successful and agile retail stores have deployed a modern Wi-Fi network and have liberated the customers and the employees alike to enjoy the benefits of ubiquitous access to all online resources whether online and in-store.

About the Author

SreeKannanSree Kannan is a 15+ years experienced networking industry veteran having worked for Vmware, Cisco and Sun microsystems. In his current role at Aerohive as Sr. Marketing manager, he leads the marketing strategy for key industry verticals and for key aerohive technology partners. In his previous roles, he led the product marketing for Vmware’s virtual desktop infrastructure products and business development for branch networking products at Cisco. He loves working with networking technology products and showcase the benefits of these products in enriching people’s lives.

feature image credit: Bert Kaufmann via photopin cc