Sunday, March 13, 2011

Article: How Our Wi-Fi Addiction Feeds Our Retail Habit

How Our Wi-Fi Addiction Feeds Our Retail Habit

How Our Wi-Fi Addiction Feeds Our Retail Habit

By Kevin C. Tofel Mar. 9, 2011, 8:00am PT

 like the multiple doses of caffeine I take daily in a coffee mug, our collective addiction to Wi-Fi is only growing stronger as the need for inexpensive, near-constant connectivity is rising. According to the most recent survey due out later this week from Devicescape, a Wi-Fi software solutions provider, 80 percent of respondents say full-time connectivity has improved their lives, and a full 90 percent like the feeling that being connected provides. There will always be some who prefer to cut the cord — and go with decaf — but for most, it’s an online world and we just live in it. Or perhaps that should read: We just shop in it.

According to the 1,088 respondents in the Devicescape report, 80.5 percent prefer to shop at a retail store that offers Wi-Fi vs a location without. And 65 percent would take advantage of the wireless connection to sign up for club cards, store memberships and coupons. Why else is there a need for Wi-Fi in such places? A report out today from Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies shows 67 percent of consumers are using the phone to supplement their shopping experience for price comparison, product reviews, and seeking out discounts.

Store owners should take note, because providing free wireless access to potential customers could easily turn such activities into actual sales. Of course, there’s always the risk that a WiFi-totin’ shopper will find a better deal a few miles away, but there’s a convenience factor involved. Consumers will decide if it’s simply easier to make the purchase now as opposed to potentially saving a few bucks by driving down the road. Some will take the trip, but stores that arm consumers with Wi-Fi have an advantage: The customer is already in the store, which means half the brick-and-mortar battle is won.

As the number of smartphones purchased continues to rise, it’s reasonable to assume nearly all are combined with a mobile broadband plan, so is there really a need to supplement that with Wi-Fi everywhere? I think there is, and ironically, part of the reason comes in the form of a prior Devicescape survey. The company’s report from last October provides the clue:

Respondents to the survey are adamant about their data needs, with 61.2 percent indicating they wouldn’t pay for an unlimited data plan. If plans are capped, loyalty to a provider plummets, as 77.9 percent of those polled would consider switching mobile operators.

The best days of unlimited mobile broadband are behind us as carriers move away from the all-you-can-surf buffet in favor of tiered data plans for smartphones. AT&T made that move last June, and Verizon has already signaled intentions to follow suit this summer. As a shopper, I don’t want to have to count the bytes I’m using in the aisle while doing price comparisons, reading reviews or watching YouTube product overviews.

Free and open Wi-Fi in a store eliminates that hassle and won’t use up the precious bits I’ll need when leaving the comfort of a free wireless network. Well, at least until I need that next cup of java at the local coffee shop with its free Wi-Fi.

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