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Jeff.Lewis

Jeff Lewis

Vice President of Product Management of Comcast Business

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Digital Transformation: WiFi Analytics Can Shape Retail Customer Outcomes

May 31, 2017

WiFi analytics promises to play a significant role in the digital transformation strategies of retailers.

There was a time when a shopper would walk into a store and be greeted by name by the person behind the counter. Knowing the shopper’s tastes from countless previous interactions, the clerk might offer some suggestions on what to buy that particular day.

A conversation might start something like this, “Good morning, Sal, have you seen the new issue of Automotive Magazine?” Or, “We just got a new wheel of parmesan from Italy, and I know you’ll want a taste of it.” The shopper may not have walked in for a magazine or cheese, but based on this new information, might walk out with a periodical under his arm or a savory wedge of cheese in a bag.

In today’s world of brief interactions between shoppers and retail employees, such a scenario is far less likely. But that doesn’t mean a retailer can’t keep track of individual tastes and make informed suggestions on items of interest to specific patrons. This is possible through WiFi analytics systems that track retail customers’ trajectories once they enter a retail location.

The level of granular information retailers can learn about their patrons enables them to hone their operations and services to satisfy customer preferences – down to the individual. And this, in a very real, palpable way, is what digital transformation is all about.

Tracking Customers

Retailers that deploy WiFi systems are able to hone in on the needs of existing customers and transform casual browsers into loyal new patrons. It all starts with the smartphones in the pockets of patrons as they enter or are near a store. If the phone connects to the store’s WiFi, the store owner can access a lot of useful information about each customer – from which entrance patrons use to how long they spend in the store to what items they purchase.

WiFi analytics can tell the retailer whether a customer is a first-time or frequent visitor. If the person has been at the store previously, the system will tell you when and how long they spent at the store, what aisles they walked up and down, and where they tended to linger.

This allows you to find out which products the person comes in to buy and what else catches their eye as they move around the store. The data is useful in multiple ways. It reveals shoppers’ traffic patterns, for one thing, providing clues about how to rearrange your displays for maximum effect and where to place service staff to address customer inquiries.

It also helps retailers refine marketing strategies. Let’s say you offer a guest WiFi to which patrons can connect using IDs they’ve previously set up. Perhaps they use a native ID or social media credential, if you make that option available. In each of these scenarios, you can pick up data about store visitors – even whether they logged on to certain websites, perhaps to compare prices.

Individual Promotions

Information captured and digested by WiFi analytics systems is about more than simply rearranging displays in stores. Retailers are also starting to use it to craft promotions targeted at individuals.

Knowing that in the past Customer A has bought multiple bottles of a certain brand of wine, you can entice the customer to buy more or try a different brand by sending them an individualized coupon. Perhaps you text them the coupon as they enter or walk by the store. This could turn a casual walk-through into a sale. Or you can tell them about the promotion through email or social media, possibly prompting the customer to schedule a trip to the store they hadn’t planned to make.

Overcoming Challenges

Setting the conditions to gain this level of insight into retail customer preferences and habits isn’t without challenges. It requires an investment in technology and applications.

WiFi networks that open to the public need to be robust and reliable, so retailers need to invest in bandwidth by tapping carriers for added capacity if they expect customers to use their WiFi. If connections are too slow, users will disable the WiFi on their smartphones and instead use cellular networks. When that happens, there’s no data to capture and analyze.

Another challenge is getting the expertise to run the analytics applications to organize the data into digestible, actionable formats. Such skills are hard to come by and competition for them is fierce, but instead of trying to build in-house teams to handle WiFi analytics, retailers can turn to a network service provider to deliver and manage the service.

Despite the challenges, WiFi analytics promises to play a significant role in the digital transformation strategies of retailers. The companies that implement these systems early are sure to gain a competitive advantage and take a solid step toward digital transformation.

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