How Are Retailers Using Wi-Fi To Create A Richer In-Store Experience?

Retail has fundamentally changed in the past twenty years. While e-commerce initially transformed the face of retail, Wi-Fi is behind the next wave of change. Retailers are embracing various technologies to redefine everything from merchandising to customer care. 

The question for brick-and-mortar stores is: How can a retailer take all the information that’s available to customers online and make a shopping experience that is as easy – or even more compelling – when they aret inside the store?

Let’s look at a few creative ways retailers are addressing this challenge:

  • Some retailers are testing “smart” fitting room mirrors that can show you what you’d look like in the same outfit in different colors. It can also recommend complementary products to increase basket size.
  • Other retailers are testing how a connected fitting room that senses RFID tags in clothing can be used to improve sales and the customer experience. For example, the screen in the fitting room can alert the customer if there are other sizes or colors of the item in stock, request items from the store clerk, or even order an item from the fitting room.
  • Still, other retailers are using WLANs, beacons, and mobile apps to help route customers through the store, provide customized promotions, and deliveral additional product information.
  • Meanwhile, mobile point of sale (POS) and mobile-client solutions are taking information and services to the customer at many retailers today. Instead of going back to a computer, the sales clerk can service the customer wherever they are in the store. 

All of these richer customer and employee experiences have one thing in common: They require a resilient wireless infrastructure to build the retail store of today and the future.

A connected store can bridge the gap between the physical and digital domains. For example, retailers can create a two-way conversation between a store’s website visitor and the retailer’s in-store personnel. This would allow the salesperson to provide an in-store like experience to the website visitor using a live video stream over Wi-Fi. Retailers are also using video analytics and WLAN traffic analysis to understand footfall, optimize store layouts, and improve security.  

While these trends aren’t new, most retailers’ network solutions aren’t up to the task. Upgrading to the latest WLAN solutions will provide the density, bandwidth, and availability to support today’s connected retail experience. Other things to look for in a solution are ease of provisioning and management. For example, retailers typically have multiple stores but minimal IT staff.

Solutions such as zero-touch provisioning will allow one IT administrator to configure and manage multiple stores remotely using a browser. The on-site staff simply plugs the access points (APs) in at the right location and the administrator can do the rest.

In addition to upgrading the network, there are some basic experience pitfalls to avoid. For example, consumers and employees need an easy way to access the network. Retailers should evaluate the onboarding and security process for various wireless LAN vendors.

Once a consumer has logged on to the network, the software should remember the user and automatically log the person in on their next visit. If the customer uses the retailer’s mobile app, the app should automatically connect the user to the store’s wireless network without requiring a complex set up. Other frequent pitfalls include focusing on promotions instead of engagement and failure to build a content management strategy for beacons.

With seamless, high-bandwidth connectivity as a foundation, retailers can focus on delivering the right information and services to both employees and customers.



Maribel Lopez is Principal & Founder of research firm Lopez Research, which provides research, analysis, and strategic insight to the communications industry. Prior to founding Lopez Research, Maribel was an analyst for more than 10 years at Forrester Research, most recently as Vice President of the tech industry strategies group.

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