Retailers are investing a lot of money in in-store Wi-Fi. Marks and Spencer has just begun trialling in-store Wi-Fi at its new at Cheshire Oaks, opened by chief executive Marc Bolland on Thursday. It is the retailer’s first stage in its plan to roll out Wi-Fi across all its stores, and forms part of Mr Bolland’s plan to reach £800m to £1bn of e-commerce sales by the end of 2014.
Marks and Spencer, Cheshire Oaks
Other retailers currently offering in-store Wi-Fi include Tesco and ASDA. Tesco finished rolling out its Wi-Fi to all of its 250 large Extra stores last November, and ASDA and Morrisons are currently trialling the service at some of their larger stores.
Retailers like the idea of Wi-Fi for five reasons:
- They will be able to use return path data to get a closer understanding of people’s behaviour.
- They can use it to create added value by providing an easier and more engaging way to shop.
- They see it as a means for providing shoppers with more closely targeted messages, brand experiences, coupons and so on.
- They believe they can encourage customers to get on the pathway to purchase more quickly.
- They can cut down on shop space (if it’s online, why display it?).
However, in a sign that Wi-Fi may not be the success some retailers hope, Sainsbury’s has decided this week to drop plans for in-store Wi-fi, following trials at three of its superstores in Crayford, Stanway and Lincoln in February.
Sainsbury’s hasn’t divulged why it has decided to not continue with in-store Wi-Fi, but I expect the following are a few of the reasons. Many people off to do the weekly shop simply aren’t interested in browsing on their phones for products. They just want to get round the store and out the door as quickly as possible. Secondly, when they do want to browse, research and even buy products, they are more likely to use network operators’ services. Much of urban UK now has 3G coverage– certainly those areas that are likely to see this kind of purchase behaviour - and most people are unlikely to consider switching on their Wi-Fi and then logging in (as some retailers require) in order to use the service as worthwhile. This is to say, shoppers have to see the value in using in-store Wi-Fi, and I'm not sure that supermarkets have communicated this value or made sure that the value is big enough in the eyes of shoppers.
All of this is not to say some retailers will not see take up in in-store Wi-Fi. Some will, but we will see differences across retail sectors. For example, I can imagine Ikea seeing a lot of success because of very different shopping behaviours and expectations than at supermarkets. People set a lot more time aside to shop at Ikea, often setting a whole day aside, and are likely to see how their smartphones and smartphone apps can facilitate browsing and planning where and how products can fit in their homes.