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The expansion of free public WiFi and how retailers can use it to their advantage

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Free public WiFi is a growing trend as cities across the UK invest in re-invigorating the high street and utilising WiFi services for both citizens and tourists – enabling them to connect to services, venues, retailers and the wider world while on the move.

A recent survey by Purple WiFi, the cloud-based, social WiFi platform revealed that 72 per cent of 2,540 respondents use WiFi in a public place, 77 per cent would be more likely to go to a location if it offered free WiFi, 75 per cent would stay in a location if it offered some sort of WiFi and 63 per cent would spend additional money in a venue that offered free WiFi. Interestingly, the public also indicated that legislation should be in place to prevent illegal and explicit websites being accessed in public places, as 56 per cent confirmed content filtering should be a legal requirement in public locations, and a further 26 per cent said content filtering requirements should depend on the venue.

Free WiFi is currently being offered city-wide across Gloucester, Plymouth, South Cumbria and Newcastle and Gateshead and at well-known tourist landmarks including The London Eye, Stonehenge, The Angel Of The North and Canterbury Cathedral. Well-recognised high-street names including HSBC, Dominos and Just Eat also offer free WiFi to their customers.

The connected consumer is not going away: 41 per cent of us have “showroomed” (browsing at least once in-store and then buying online) and a whopping 88 per cent have “webroomed” (also called “reverse-showrooming”: browsing online before making an in-store purchase). With this in mind, one of the most obvious ways for retailers to take advantage of showrooming is to offer free in-store WiFi.

By encouraging in-store customers to use their own devices to join a captive Wi-Fi portal, retailers can further bridge the gap between the physical and online space. They can raise awareness about their mobile app and loyalty program, deliver personalized offers tailored to specific interests or particular profiles, allow for social sharing and feedback, as well as collect profile information and user analytics (ideally after opt-in).

Free WiFi presents brands with opportunities to contact the customer after the in-store experience, present them with digital offers and location-based loyalty perks. By combining a personalised in-store experience with free online access, retailers will provide the customer with a more complete and satisfying shopping experience leading to greater loyalty and sales revenue. Social media combined with Wi-Fi are poised to play a key role in the transition to the store of the future.

Published on Monday 16 June by Editorial Assistant

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