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It may have been cold and foggy outside the BT Tower last week, but inside one thing was clear: in-store wi-fi is a hot topic right now.

More than 70 retailers squeezed into BT Tower to pick the brains of various product experts and mobility providers during a morning of presentations, discussions and technology demonstrations.

So what did we find out?

BT Expedite & Fresca’s product director Jason Shorrock kicked things off by outlining how mobile is transforming the bricks and mortar customer experience. The eventual arrival of  e-commerce as a mainstream for all retailers has helped change the role of the store, from a purely transactional customer experience to become a point of service.

In addition to using wi-fi to mobilise elements of the existing store experience, retailers are finding the key to success is identifying opportunities to generate more value from their two fundamental resources – human capital and floorspace. Mobile technologies create friction-free experiences for customers in store, whether that be through queue-busting in busy periods or providing staff with a live inventory of the stock room so they can provide better information to, and spend more time with, the customer.

One thing is very clear – mobile isn’t going to go away and it’s vital that in-store infrastructure is set up and managed properly – rather than allowing it to grow piecemeal. The benefits are material, as Julian Niblett former head of retail operations development at Boots UK, pointed out. Enterprise mobility can create real value through improved:

  • accuracy (mobile is real-time and paperless)
  • productivity (it removes tasks and introduces more automation)
  • management information
  • audit systems (by removing physical paperwork)
  • customer services (with staff on the shop floor more)

And all at a lower cost model by reducing stock investment and improving margins.

Which all sounds great, so how do we do it?

John Vaccaro of Mobilis Consulting and BT Expedite Infrastructure Services Director Eddie Dodds outlined the main challenges of managing mobile hardware, software and systems. Understanding the interplay of networks, access points and applications underpins the successful planning of effective delivery.

It’s all about the three Ms: measurement, monitoring, management. The real opportunity is knowing and reacting if something goes wrong – before it impacts the business. With so much now dependent on it, wireless is a mission-critical asset. So it needs to be brought into your existing systems and procedures with a central platform capable of managing as many devices as possible.

And that’s when the real fun begins.

Once you have the infrastructure and management in place you can throw your virtual doors open and invite some guests. Just don’t assume that your role as a host is to simply open the door! You need to spend a little bit of time getting to know your guests.

Carlos Gómez Gallego product management director at Aruba Networks described the different ways retailers are doing this. One thing was loud and clear: IN-STORE GUEST ACCESS IS NOT ABOUT INTERNET ACCESS. I’ll say that again: In-store guest access is not about internet access. The days of enticing customers to buy a coffee for some “free” internet time are over, especially as some of the behaviours that drove there were not always in the best interests of the retailer (anyone want to confess to sitting in Borders’  café reading a book you then didn’t buy?)

Smart retailers are using wi-fi access to capture customer info and to engage. They’re broadening the concept of a “session” to a “visit”. It’s a whole new channel with additional engagement and targeted marketing opportunities and the chance to learn from an even broader spread of behavioural and usage data.

Each time someone connects, you get information such as email addresses, phone numbers, time and duration of visit, pages visited… and with this you can start firing out personalised, targeted offers in real-time on their device – or even via in-store display screens running dynamic personalised messages. 

Watch highlights and hear from speakers Julian Nibblet (formerly with Boots UK), John Vaccaro (Mobilis Consulting) and Carlos Gomez Gallego (Aruba Networks) as well as and Eddie Dodds and Jason Shorrock from BT.

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By Josh Pert, CEO, BT Expedite & Fresca

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