Many businesses are hesitant to offer free Wi-Fi to the public or their customers. This post highlights some of the advantages of offering that service.
This article has been motivated by the free Wi-Fi initiative in Barbados (11.11.11 ON) that is being facilitated by the Barbados Entrepreneurial Foundation, which has the goal of achieving free Wi-Fi island wide by 11 November 2011. Following our earlier post, From bus stop to rum shop: how Barbados plans to achieve 100% Wi-Fi coverage, most of the feedback received was from organisations/people concerned about protecting their private networks. However, there was also a vague sense that many did not fully understand how businesses could benefit from offering guest networks that provided free wireless Internet access.
In a number of articles, including our earlier post and How would a Wi-Fi nation affect Barbados, some of the potential benefits and opportunities of the 11.11.11 ON project have been highlighted. Admittedly, most of the points primarily speak to national benefits (to Barbados), and so the success of the project might (unfairly) be relying on considerable altruism from participating businesses. However, there are a number of advantages organisations can gain by offering free Wi-Fi.
1. Facilitates better client relations. From the doctor’s office to the barbershop, although persons might have appointments, more often than not, schedules do not run to time – they have to wait. By providing free Wi-Fi access, organisations can show that they value their clients’ time, and allow them to still be productive while they wait for their appointments. For those who might not be as busy, Internet access can also be welcomed distraction while they wait.
2. Offers a competitive advantage. Similar to the word “sale”, many of us love the word “free”. Offering “free Wi-Fi”, could be deciding factor in choosing one organisation or business over another, since we all tend to appreciate complimentary extras.
3. Provides other avenues for marketing. In addition to traditional marketing methods, there are opportunities for businesses to use their guest networks to advertise their products, services, special promotion, etc., when people connect to the network. For example, very short-term promotions can be advertised to increase sales in low periods, or again, to offer certain incentives over neighbouring competitors.
Additionally, for businesses that are registered on location-based social networking sites, such as Foursquare, or even TUMP in Jamaica, free Wi-Fi would allow customers to immediately update their locations, thus providing free publicity and recommendations to their friends and followers.
4. Help customers comparison shop. This benefit was highlighted in the 2011 predictions report by Deloitte Canada, which noted that more retail stores were offering free Wi-Fi to help their customers comparison shop. While this might seem odd, the truth is that most people do comparison shop. They want to know their options, and will hesitate to purchase until they do. Often, this is not an issue solely of securing the cheapest price for an item, but the need to have a clearer idea of what is available in order to make an informed decision. As indicated in the first part of the clip below, sales do increase when Wi-Fi is available, since a key objective is to keep customers in the stores.
5. Builds customer loyalty. The above 5 points highlight benefits to businesses, but they can also foster customer loyalty. This is particularly the case when distinct benefits are being offered over other similar businesses.
6. Provides valuable customer information. Businesses offering free Wi-Fi can monitor and track customer behaviour online, and thereafter, prepare more targeted incentives and strategies to increase sales. Although most persons might be uncomfortable with this, depending on the country and its laws, persons or businesses can be held liable for illegal online activities occurring on their premises. Hence it is advisable that providers of free Wi-Fi do monitor online activity, and that they remind prospective users of their right to examine the traffic.
As indicated in our From bus stop to rum shop post and the ensuing discussion, businesses offering Wi-Fi access must ensure that the connection is correctly set-up and configured, in order to protect their internal network and to share the bandwidth between their public and private networks. Nevertheless, providing a guest network offers most organisations invaluable opportunities to engage with their prospective customers in particular, and to improve their sales. Again, the onus is on the business to determine how best such a service could be used to benefit both itself and its customers.