Retailers need to take decisive steps to manage the air
Consumers want to stay connected while they shop, whether to share their outfit of the day on social media or to read reviews and compare prices for that new drone from the aisle.
Wi-Fi is an increasingly vital part of the retail experience, both for shoppers and retailers. Free Wi-Fi is available in stores, restaurants, fitness centres, hotels, hair salons—and many more places where people find themselves waiting or hanging out. The availability of Wi-Fi influences where people shop, and when the Wi-Fi is good, people shop longer and spend more. For retailers, the benefits of Wi-Fi also serve as a platform to better understand and engage consumers.
Air is a precious resource
As the Director of Systems Engineering for South Pacific, I am fortunate to work with leading retailers as they explore how to use technology to drive customer loyalty and boost store efficiency. Some shopping centre owners now consider the air as an asset just like other physical assets associated with the shopping centre complex.
Delivering reliable wireless in public spaces in shopping centres and public venues is very challenging. A common topic of discussion with our retail customers is how to deliver a better experience for shoppers.
One place to start is managing the air. For shopping centre owners, wireless LAN is another service that should be provided and managed. Just like electricity, air conditioning, security and public parking. But unlike other environmental and building services, wireless operates in unlicensed spectrum—a finite, shared resource—that is becoming increasingly valuable.
Shopping centres contain a mix of public spaces and in store spaces. The public spaces are managed by the centre owner, and if the centre provides free Wi-Fi, it would have been deployed by and managed by the centre owner. The in-store spaces are managed by the retailer. A retailer may choose to deploy their own in store Wi-Fi which may be used for inventory management, improved customer service or even the retailer’s own free Wi-Fi.
Hence, a typical shopping centre will contain a mix of public space and retail space Wi-Fi. As there is little if any overall consideration of how these Wi-Fi networks will interact shopping centres need to take decisive steps to manage the air to deliver a better experience for their tenants—the retailers—and the shoppers.
Establish policies for spectrum use
A first step is to establish policies to ensure that the RF is shared fairly among public spaces and in store spaces. This will provide a RF environment where public and in store Wi-Fi can better coexist.
Shopping centres should provide guidance to their tenants about which band and channels they use for their in-store Wi-Fi networks. For example, the centre owner may decide that they will have exclusive usage of part of the available 5 GHz spectrum and allow tenants to use 2.4 GHz and the remaining part of the 5 GHz spectrum for in store Wi-Fi. This establishes a basic spectrum usage policy that aims to minimize co channel interference between public and in store spaces.
Additionally, the centre owner should issue some basic Wi-Fi deployment guidelines for public spaces like reducing the access point transmit power and even disabling the lower speed transmit rates. Of course this may introduce some additional deployment costs for the in-store retailer as they will need to ensure the configuration guidelines are followed, rather that just leaving all access point RF settings as default. Also, it requires the retailer to purchase enterprise grade Wi-Fi that allows the basic configurations according to the policy. Overall, the benefits to the user experience will far outweigh these minor overheads.
If retailers deploy their own wireless LANs, then the shopping centres can monitor for compliance. However, leading shopping centres are increasingly deploying wireless as a service to tenants, and by doing so, they have greater control.
Tap into rich analytics
Managing the air will become increasingly important as the density of users and devices continues to rise however a direct benefit of a well utilized public Wi-Fi network is rich analytics they can be provided to centre owners and retailers.
Today, wireless is supporting point of sale systems, payment terminals, scanners, kiosks, VoIP phones, tablet computers used by staff, and more. Any of these devices that connect to the Wi-Fi, or even devices that are in shopper’s pockets that do not connect, are a source for analytics.
Information about where shoppers spend most of their time or their preferred travel paths through the shopping centre can be derived from Wi-Fi. But that is just the beginning as the Internet of Things (IoT) takes hold. Retailers are adding beacons and sensors to enhance the retail experience — but will also add many more devices to their wireless networks.
Retailers can use information about travel paths through the store and shopping centre to improve the shopping centre layout and stores’ merchandizing strategies. By understanding customers’ movements, stores can place premium items in high-traffic areas. Smart mirrors can allow customers to try on clothes (virtually) and smart shelves can automatically detect when inventory is low.
Share your experience
How are you using Wi-Fi to deliver a better experience to customers, and how do you manage this precious resource? Tell us in the comments below.
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