How important is WiFi (or connectivity) in a retail environment?

I’ve a question for you about the importance of connectivity in the retail environment. I’d like to determine if I’m an absolutely ridiculous edge case, or whether you’re feeling it too.

I set out a scenario last night whereby I made extensive use of Whatsapp to help my wife decide precisely what present she’d like for Christmas. This involved me wandering around a shop in Bond Street following the sales person and snapping various photos to send to my wife 50 miles away. 

My Vodafone 4G connection is normally pretty good. But last night, I was actually using my own personal MiFi hotspot to connect to the internet.

Here’s why: Selfridges.

I had originally visited the world famous department store on Oxford Street to have a browse about and see if anything caught my eye. I was pretty surprised to find that my Vodafone 4G signal was almost non-existent, continually. 

The first thing I wanted to do was to send my wife a Whatsapp location status (“Selfridges & Co”) to surprise her. (Normally at that time of night I am usually at the office!)

I couldn’t get a connection. My iPhone was struggling to maintain GPRS, let alone Edge or 3G. I wouldn’t have minded if it actually worked, but as I typically have experienced on Vodafone for years now, it’s rare that these other mediums actually work. It’s practically useless telling me I’ve got a GPRS connection when I can’t do anything with it. I really would have preferred super-slow to pretending. 

As I strolled around Selfridges I thought that the store team must have recognised this connectivity challenge and installed WiFi. Not that I could determine. In fairness I did see a BTWiFi hotspot pop up once or twice but I was looking for a dedicated, store-branded service. It’s certainly possible that Selfridges has arranged for super high quality BTWiFi — but often my experience with BT is limited. And I couldn’t be bothered to faff. 

I’m a BT Infinity customer. I’ve setup my phone to automatically roam on to BTWiFi. Not FLIPPING ONCE has this actually ever worked. 

Anyway.

Connectivity was a challenge using Vodafone.

So I reached into my bag and activated my trusty Huawei E589 MiFi device rocking super-fast EE 4G. Boom! I was connected. 

I left the MiFi on as I walked around the other shops too. During the purchase process, connectivity is actually rather critical.

Witness, for example, the fact I couldn’t remember the name of the book I had to buy in Waterstones for the office Secret Santa. I knew the author. Just not the name. 

I waited 2 minutes to speak to a Waterstones helper but then lost patience, fired up my browser and got the answer in 5 seconds. Thank you EE. I then ended up having to wait a further 5 minutes to get to speak to a chap to find out precisely where the book was located in the store.

And yes, I did look to see if Amazon could have got it to me quicker. Alas I needed the book for tomorrow morning so I resolved to wait. Fine. 

Frequently I’m out shopping for food with the children and can’t remember the exact brand of butter we need. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when there’s no connection in the local Tesco. Routinely I need to push my trolley to the front of the store and hang about whilst my ‘no signal’ turns into a 3G or 4G connection so I can ask my wife. 

Speaking of Tesco, Clubcard holders can often use the Tesco WiFi service (where available). This strikes me as a particularly smart idea.

I had a connectivity problem a few months ago in Las Vegas trying to buy something from Mont Blanc. I can’t remember precisely what the challenge was. I think I was trying to look up the PIN for one of my credit cards (because the main one had gone into that seriously unhelpful ‘fraud’ status, unable to be resolved until the morning, UK time). But I couldn’t get a connection to Evernote.

The team at Mont Blanc lost out on my $800 sale the first night because I couldn’t pay. Because I didn’t have a connection. There was no signal so I couldn’t use my phone’s data connection and the shopping mall’s WiFi was either too oversubscribed by people Facebooking or just rubbish. From memory I eventually went back the next evening and completed the transaction. 

I’m still surprised that the simple task of offering easy WiFi for shoppers isn’t something more shops have picked up on. 

But then again, is it just me? Am I the ultra edge case? And is it likely to stay that way?

What has your experience been? 

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  • Jakdaw

    “can’t remember the exact brand of butter we need”

    You sure the problem is the technology?

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Heh. Yes it is ;)

  • http://wirelessworker.net Ben Smith

    I do this all the time and really appreciate good WiFi in store. Yes, it does sometimes mean I ‘showroom’ and buy from Amazon but if I’m actually in your store there’s generally a good reason I’m there – I want to see the products or need the item immediately. Keep me connected and I can check my Evernote shopping list, check product reviews, get info from my email and even just check other store’s opening times so I know if I have time for a coffee in your cafe.

    The next step has to be for retailers to follow Apple’s lead and offer mobile apps that change function when you are in-store to offer more immediately useful services / info.

  • James Vincent

    I think WiFi in retail stores is really important. Usually ‘cos a Network’s data connection in a shopping centre is really bad. When I go into Cardiff to St: David’s Shopping centre, EE 2G/3G/4G is awful. So is 3’s. But then it’s the faffing about with wifi connecting which isn’t always as easy as it should be. [Which makes making a phone call/sending a Whatsapp message to check I get a purchase right difficult.]

  • Pana

    Wifi is super important in retail, looking at all the young shoppers who instantly share their purchases or ask their friends for their opinion! It also enhances the customer experience! But I am sure Selfridges & Co will offer it, at some point! :D

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