In-Store Wi-Fi: The Six Common Mistakes Retailers Make

This article was originally posted in Forbes, on Jan 31, 2020.

By Mike Perrone, CEO, SocialSign-in Inc, helping enterprises leverage guest Wi-Fi as a powerful marketing channel. 


Do you remember back in 2012 when CEO Ron Johnson announced that providing free guest Wi-Fi was a critical piece of his strategy to modernize JCPenney and reverse the company’s downward slide? If so, you also probably remember how a year and $12 million later, Johnson’s replacement Mike Ullman completely dropped the offering.

In retrospect, it wasn’t that guest Wi-Fi was a poor investment; it was simply poor execution. Had JCPenney avoided a few of the common mistakes retailers make when deploying free guest Wi-Fi, this could have been an ROI-positive investment.

If you already offer free guest Wi-Fi to shoppers or are thinking about deploying it, there are a few pitfalls you want to dodge. The good news is that as common as these mistakes are, they are highly avoidable. In my work helping businesses leverage guest Wi-Fi as a marketing tool, these are the six mistakes I see regularly:

1. Open Access

Free doesn’t mean open access. Some retailers will allow anyone to connect without any credentials. This is lazy and a critical mistake for a few reasons. First, it isn’t secure and your guests deserve better. Don’t be the poster child for a guest data breach. Second, requiring credentials when logging on to guest Wi-Fi presents tremendous opportunity for retailers to turn anonymous foot traffic into a customer relationship management opportunity.

2. Do-It-Yourself Solutions

Do you have one of those overzealous CIOs who thinks building a splash page to manage login is simple? Think about how many devices and operating systems are out there and how often they are being updated. It’s unlikely that your internal team can effectively manage it all. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be companies with teams of programmers and technologists dedicated to managing this one area. The good news is that it isn’t very expensive to subscribe to an effective software platform.

3. Overly Complicated Login

While open access is a no-no, making your customers jump through hoops to log on is no better. The login process should be quick and simple. Whatever software you do choose to use to manage login, make sure it includes device recognition so that your returning customers only need to go through the process once, regardless of which location they visit. Also, make sure your platform is flexible so that you can easily change rules and requirements by location.

4. Leaving First-Party Data On The Table

Your customers are often happy to provide their email addresses and other first-party data in exchange for access to your guest Wi-Fi. My company focuses on validation of first-party data, so I can tell you that if you aren’t validating your data, less than 60% of the data entering your CRM is accurate.

When you use a login/credential management platform to maximize your email yield, set a goal of 90% accuracy. If you assume a valid, opted-in email address for one of your otherwise anonymous shoppers is worth X annually — and X should be at least $5 — what would a 50% increase in email yield do to your bottom line?

Besides logic to validate email format, choose a software provider that employs a large email whitelist, as well as a large blacklist to identify email addresses and domains known to send spam.

5. El Software No Es Compatible Con Otros Idiomas

Not all of your customers speak English. Offer access in your customers’ native languages. Many platforms will cover dozens of languages. Not only will it increase your first-party data yield, but your customers will greatly appreciate the gesture.

6. No Integration With Your CRM

Plan for the future. Even if you aren’t customizing the mobile experience for your visitors today, you may want to in the future. Want to speak to a loyalty member differently? Do you categorize your customers by purchase history? If you can foresee yourself eventually going down this path – and you should – there are reasonably priced software platforms that provide easy CRM integration to facilitate customization of your guest Wi-Fi experience in real time.

While the proliferation of unlimited data plans has made it less of a necessity, according to a survey from HRC Retail Advisory, a strong Wi-Fi signal is important to Gen Z customers and their overall shopping experience. Just wait for the coverage issues that will accompany the eventual move to 5G.

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