The combination of mobile devices and location-based services can be compellingly effective, yet very few businesses are taking full advantage of the services available. With advancements in Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi technologies and the UK’s mobile networks swiftly adopting and developing their 4G connections, business owners are now able to instinctively reach out to their customers at the most appropriate moment to help boost engagement and drive conversions.

For over a decade, online retailers have had the advantage of gathering insightful data about their customers; the journey the user takes before making their purchase, the pages that aren’t working as effectively in enticing customers to purchase products and which online promotions or campaigns receive the most clicks from users. These are some of the most common metrics that can be tracked and measured in order to gain insight into the user customer’s online journey. Armed with such powerful data, online businesses have been able to optimise their sites, increase customer engagement and monitor acquisition, leaving their offline counterparts with few similar options.

With these advancements in technology, bricks-and-mortar stores are finally capable of gathering equivalent data that allows them to build confident and assured profiles of their customers and their specific needs. For instance, by adopting one of the many in-store devices, you could carry out live in-store A/B testing that could assess the benefits of a particular campaign or product by examining fluctuations in foot traffic and sales. You could also activate unique social media-led promotional campaigns to passers-by, increasing your online and offline presence with one simple technique. On a behind-the-scenes level, you could use these devices to evaluate fluctuations in foot traffic and sales, allowing you to manage your time and staff effectively. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg for this new functionality.

What is social Wi-Fi?

Social Wi-Fi is accessible wireless Internet for those visiting a store or attraction within a public space. Rather than entering a pre-arranged password, the user is asked to simply ‘like’ the venue’s associated Facebook page or tweet about their current location in order to gain access to the communal Wi-Fi. The service requires no additional steps or lengthy sign-up sessions.

Once the user has connected to the service, the business owner will obtain non-intrusive data from the user, allowing the owner to understand who is visiting and using the service, how long they are in store for, their age, gender and any other relevant information that they offer across their social networks. The user is provided with a detailed log that informs them of the data collection, which they will either agree or disagree to before using the service.

Research suggests that stores providing in-store social Wi-Fi have seen a significant increase in customer engagement since implementing the service. A study carried out by social Wi-Fi company, Purple Wi-Fi covered over 2,500 consumers and discovered that 75% of those involved admit that they are more likely to stay in a location for a longer period of time if it offers free Wi-Fi, and 63% of those asked are more likely to increase their average spend in a venue that offers public Wi-Fi.

What are the benefits of social Wi-Fi?

Sharing personalised offers: With social Wi-Fi, you can directly push notifications out to your in-store customers, allowing them to take advantage of tailored promotions.

Generating a dedicated mailing list: By gaining access to your customer’s email addresses, you can effectively build a strong mailing list for newsletters and campaigns without adding time on to the customer’s experience.

Providing mobile payment facilities: With the rise of e-commerce, you can combine the online and in-store customer experience by allowing mobile payments to be carried out in-store.

Tracking costumer behaviour: Upon gaining access to the service, you will be able to evaluate popular elements and areas within your venue with customer location tracking.

Removing customer inconvenience: The service should provide unobtrusive access to your network, without the need for customers to be inconvenienced by engaging with time consuming sign-up procedures.

Is there anything else I should know?

In order to truly maximise the success of social Wi-Fi, you should make sure you complete a few simple steps during its inception:

  • Ensure your in-store social Wi-Fi access is free for your customers.
  • Make your customers aware of the service – don’t leave it to chance or keep it hidden away.
  • Optimise the network, ensuring it is fast and simple for customers to gain access.
  • Encourage engagement with your customer’s via the different social networks.
  • Create a unified landing page that is displayed upon connection. This allows for a complete experience for the customer, keeping the business at the fore throughout their journey.
  • Make sure the network is safe and secure for the user. Most importantly, the log-in process must be secure.
  • There are various pieces of legislation that you should be aware of before setting up any public Wi-Fi service. It is important that you aware of the different rules and regulations before engaging with the service.

Alternatively, beacon technology works in a very similar way to social Wi-Fi. However, the service uses low-energy Bluetooth technology to communicate with customers’ phones or tablets, rather than creating an active network connection.

What is beacon technology?

Beacons are small, low-cost devices that use battery-friendly, low-energy Bluetooth connections to transmit messages or notifications directly to a user’s smartphone or tablet. The devices are in their infancy at the present moment, but they have been tipped to transform the way in which businesses engage with their customers. At time of writing, the majority of businesses incorporating beacons into their existing setups are those within the retail and sales sector. Stores are using the devices in order to communicate with their customers by providing product information, tailored promotions and to help speed up the checkout process with contactless payments – a feature many are currently deploying.

Apple is currently toying with beacon technology, with the creation of their iBeacon device. The service is expected to create a unique way of pushing location-based information and services to iPhones and other iOS devices in the immediate future. The iBeacon is also expected to play a significant part in Apple’s e-commerce and mobile payment efforts in the coming months. Apple has been trialling the service in a number of its retail stores across the globe, with full implementation expected to launch soon.

The service is comparable in many ways to the existing NFC (Near field communication) technology that many global businesses are offering. Both NFC and beacons allow brands to connect with their customers instantly, but both services have different methods of pushing out content to the consumer. NFC users have to tap their device or card onto a dedicated NFC chip in order to receive content. However, beacons push content straight to mobile devices, providing they have the brand’s native application installed on their device.

What are the benefits of beacon technology?

Recognising, rewarding and understanding your customers: Beacons can help you gain a fuller picture of your customers, allowing you to cater to their needs more effectively.

Increasing brand loyalty: The customer will have to download your native application in order to access the beacon’s content. Therefore, the customer is always connected to you.

Tracking the customer journey: The beacon can help you track how many times an individual enters your venue, the areas they choose to visit the most and the promotions or campaigns they engage with. The technology also has the potential to make staff aware when valued customers have entered the building.

Tracking staff efficiency: As the business owner, you can monitor your staff’s progress and engagement with your customers, allowing you to improve or excel at certain elements of your business strategy.

Task delegation: Beacons could also push tasks through to members of staff, alerting them to visit priority areas or assisting with a procedure.

Is there anything else I should know?

As referenced to earlier in this blog post, beacon technology is very much in its infancy. The service has received the backing of some of the world’s biggest organisations; however, it has yet to be pushed out globally. Therefore, choosing to adopt this technology so early in its lifespan could prove costly if you aren’t fully aware of the device’s ecosystem and limitations.

By creating a connected and personalised in-store experience, backed by emerging technologies, business owners can provide their customers with a unified experience, whilst leveraging crucial data that can help their brand reach new heights from an engagement, conversions and experiential perspective. Whilst the introduction of beacon technology poses various challenges for business owners, it offers a potentially beneficial and relevant experience to customers. If one thing is for certain, social-backed Wi-Fi and low-energy Bluetooth technology are almost certainly poised to play a significant role in the amalgamation of the online and offline customer journey.

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