A guest blog post by Lina Arseneault, Senior Director of Marketing at AirTight Networks.

The brick-and-mortar store experience has remained remarkably unchanged in the past 50 years. Since the days of the shopkeeper, people wander around shops looking for goods and then wait in line to pay. All that is about to change at an unprecedented pace; retailers are transforming themselves in order to remain relevant.  This means trading product centricity for customer advocacy.

In a survey of 6,000 consumers polled across eight countries (US, UK, Germany, Sweden, France, Brazil, China and Japan), Accenture found that the majority of respondents believe that integrating in store, online and mobile is the number one thing that retailers can do to improve the shopping experience.  The survey data shows that when it comes to in store shopping, consumers want the basics – done right: product, price and a personalized shopping experience.  A tall order for many retailers!

Bob Willet, former CEO of Best Buy said it best:  “The sooner we drop the ‘e’ out of ‘e-commerce’ and just call it commerce, the better.”

The connected consumer is not going away:  41 percent of us have “showroomed” (browsing at least once in-store and then buying online) and a whopping 88 percent have “webroomed” (also called “reverse-showrooming”: browsing online before making an in-store purchase).  Source: Accenture Seamless Retail Global Customer Survey.

Fortunately, technology is available to enrich the customer experience.  One of the most obvious ways for retailers to take advantage of showrooming is to offer free in store WiFi.  Phone signal strength in retail stores is generally limited.  In store WiFi enhances the consumer’s ability to stay connected anytime and anywhere within the footprint of the store.

By encouraging in-store customers to use their own devices to join a captive Wi-Fi portal, retailers can further bridge the gap between the physical and online space.  They can raise awareness about their mobile app and loyalty program.  Stores can deliver personalized offers tailored to specific interests or particular profiles, allow for social sharing and feedback, as well as collect profile information and user analytics (ideally after opt-in).

This presents brands with opportunities to contact the customer after the in-store experience, present them with digital offers (sometimes based on time sensitive triggers such as last recorded in-store visit 30-60-90 days) and location-based loyalty perks.  Read about the launch of the Pinkberry loyalty program powered by AirTight Wi-Fi.

Following the launch of free Wi-Fi in all its stores, Target learned that in-store guests overwhelmingly accessed the Target.com site while shopping in Target stores. (Source: Econsultancy)

According to a recent survey commissioned by Google, over 66 percent of smartphone owners use their phone to help them shop while in a store. Beyond showrooming, women are also using their smartphones to get style advice and feedback, search for product information, and look for special offers and discounts while they shop. Rather than fear this smartphone-enabled behavior, retailers can find ways to use it to their advantage. (Source: Business Insider).

Interestingly, although privacy and mobile phone location data are becoming increasing concerns for consumers and legislators, women are so interested in receiving relevant offers while they are out shopping that they are willing to make concessions to get them.

An independent study of 1,000 women shoppers (What Women Want When Apparel Shopping), 47 percent of women would share their location information in return for a $5 store credit. Make that a $25 in-store credit and the percentage of women who would volunteer their location increases to 83 percent.

By combining a personalized in-store experience with free online access, retailers will provide the customer with a more complete and satisfying shopping experience leading to greater loyalty and sales revenue.  Social media combined with Wi-Fi are poised to play a key role in the transition to the store of the future.  For more on social Wi-Fi, check out AirTight and Purple WiFi’s innovative solutions.