In 2017, offering your customers a Wi-Fi connection is no longer considered a luxury, it’s a necessity. Here are three important things to consider.
Customers expect a seamless experience when shopping in your store. These days that means that offering a Wi-Fi connection is a necessity. Indeed, Wi-Fi is one of the easiest services retailers can offer to ensure a positive shopping experience for their customers.
According to research conducted by JWire, about 80 percent of customers feel that an in-store Wi-Fi connection would influence their purchase decisions. In other words, customers would be more willing to purchase from a store that provides a Wi-Fi connection.
An in-store Wi-Fi connection does not just offer internet access to users. It also enhances customer shopping experience by allowing them to browse products, place an order, and make payments through their mobile devices. This creates a positive shopping experience that increases the chance of repeat customers.
There are three important things home furnishings retailers should consider when upgrading or installing an in-store Wi-Fi solution.
Customize the network
The key to serving tech-savvy consumers, and meeting the influx of applications and devices into your network, depends on how you optimize your retail network.
When implementing a network, you must take into account the context of users (their devices, location, privileges, the applications used and duration of time). Consider investing in wireless hotspot equipment that provides enhanced features through which you can accomplish these tasks.
Traditional access points and routers lack features essential for setting up Wi-Fi at retail settings. Wi-Fi hotspot equipment comes with features that limit bandwidth usage, optimize roaming and cellular handoff, and offers captive portal that require users to accept Terms of Service (TOS).
Some examples of high quality Wi-Fi hotspots include: Aerohive (the AP170), Aruba (the MSr2000), Cisco (the Aironet 1570), Meraki (now owned by Cisco), Ruckus (the T300 series).
Apart from the hardware, consider installing a firmware that upgrades the features of the Wi-Fi connection. One example of firmware suitable for many WLAN routers is DD-WRT. It supports a lot of value-added features such as complex configurations, integrated captive portals, and support for third-party servers. Another good firmware is the CoovaAP (Coova Access Points) firmware that offers many of the same features as DD-WRT firmware. However, it comes with additional functionality, allowing you to limit bandwidth on routers that don’t have such capabilities, as well as offering automatic log-in for customers. This allows you to create a captive portal page that lets the user confirm he is accessing your network and agrees to use it based on your terms. You on the other hand can limit the amount of bandwidth or internet power guest-users can have.
However, note that the above routers and firmware don’t have the ability to segregate private and public internet connections for more security to internal networks.
One way to protect your internal network is by investing in a Fonera Simpl router from Fon. Apart from segregating the networks, it also allows you to put a limit on customers’ daily Wi-Fi access. Another benefit of setting up in-store Wi-Fi access using this router is that it requires users to sign up with Fon to access the network that adds an additional layer of security to the wireless network.
If you have a large retail setup, or want to offer Wi-Fi access to a large area, you should consider purchasing Open Mesh. This economical router offers both public and private wireless access including the usual features such as speed limits and captive portal. A captive portal is a Web page that the user of a public-access network are obliged to view and interact with before access is granted. In addition, the hardware makes use of a proprietary mesh technique that allows easier installation.
Security should be a concern when upgrading your Wi-Fi system. Simply installing a Wi-Fi network without focusing on security is a reckless strategy. This can even make your store vulnerable to lawsuits. If you don’t focus on Wi-Fi network security, you will expose your customers to online attacks. If hackers infiltrate the network and steal confidential customer information such as credit card numbers, and others, they can sue you to recover the loss.
User privileges and identity are centric to VLAN (Virtual Local Area Network) /Wi-Fi SSID (Service Set Identifier ID) association and network access. They are also crucial for defining security policy in a VPN tunnel, firewall, or for application security. Users, along with user groups define the QOS (Quality Of Service) policies’ definition for traffic management, and establish service level throughout the various parts of a network and security policy framework. Although the technical jargon may not be familiar to you, this allows you to monitor the traffic on your network and limit its availability to guest users. For example, you can set up a Guest SSID with no user id or password and only allow a certain ‘x’ amount of bandwidth. In case the bandwidth goes over, your business critical applications will not be compromised.
This model results from the fact that a particular user such as a store employee is not restricted to using a single device or even location or the network access limited by SSID. Therefore, enforcing security and meeting PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry – Data Security Standard) compliance is dependent on the network where users connect.
To avoid legal complications and threat of a lawsuit, it is important to implement a high-grade wireless security policy to protect your customers against hackers. It is recommended that you install an enterprise grade firewall, anti-virus, malware, anti spam and website content filtering solutions.
Other than that, you should consider encrypting the network with WPA-2 Personal security protocols. These security protocols prevent hackers from eavesdropping or monitoring network traffic. Retail businesses should consider implementing enterprise level WPA-2 security that requires a Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) server that offers better security of the Wi-Fi access. A RADIUS server simply enables remote server access after authentication. This greatly adds to the security of the wireless security system.
Previously we have mentioned routers that offer captive portal features. A captive portal also enhances the security of the wireless connection. It is a portal that users interact with before accessing the website. With a captive portal, you can require users to authenticate the customers using their email address, mobile number or name. Other than that, this is a great way to customize the browsing experience of customers.
For a really cool way to automate the authentication process, you should consider configuring QR codes with the router and embedded pass phrase. This can be made possible by using a Wi-Fi QR code generator software that is easily found on the internet.
It’s important to strike a balance between both wired and wireless network infrastructures as well as deployment aids to your store’s bottom line. Rightsizing and integrating a wired/wireless network for optimum capacity, efficient utilization and balanced planning of respective wired ports vs. the wireless network all contribute to cost-effective IT for your store.
When you have the right network platform, you can select an integrated access infrastructure that has deep visibility for both users and applications on the network. In other words, your IT administrator will be able to quickly and proactively troubleshoot and resolve problems before they affect any of your business services or the end-user experience.
The last important point to consider when upgrading retail store Wi-Fi is to install cloud control software for monitoring traffic and data. It is called cloud control because the software is located on the remote servers that can be accessed using the internet from anywhere, anytime.
Using the cloud control software, you can perform multiple actions such as monitoring load on access points, track network usage, monitor the number of clients, track devices and OS used to connect to the Wi-Fi network. You can also configure limited access to the network based on a specific device IP (internet protocol) address.
A cool feature that is made possible by cloud controller software is splash page creation. This page can be displayed on the user’s screen when accessing the wireless network. You can create pages that highlight popular deals or items your users might be interested in knowing about.
The use of Wi-Fi in retail stores has greatly transformed the retail landscape. Successful and responsive home furnishings stores are deploying modern Wi-Fi networks to deliver their customers a much enhanced shopping experience by providing them access to resources online.
Wi-Fi access can improve the overall customer shopping experience by allowing them to connect to the network through their mobile devices. As a result, a retailer can better serve his or her customers based on their individual needs and requirements. In-store Wi-Fi helps you to promptly engage customers, promote your content and your brand. The end result is better customer satisfaction, increase conversion rates, and more repeat customers.
Amitesh Sinha is a technology consultant based in North America. With over 20 years of experience developing and deploying solutions for retail, Sinha has gained a reputation for home furnishing software solutions, furniture software, POS furniture software, and re-engineering of software with extended features. His company, iConnect offers business technology solutions that integrate with most P.O.S. systems to make them more efficient and user-friendly. For more information about this article or any retail technology question contact Amitesh at 703-471-3964, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.iconnectgroup.com.