Customers really do appreciate free Wi-Fi, it seems. A new study by IHL Group found that 28 percent of retailers who added in-store Wi-Fi said they got a boost in customer loyalty.
That may not qualify as a competitive advantage, though. The survey also found that 82 percent of large to medium-sized retailers have already deployed in-store Wi-Fi, and 57 percent of enterprise retailers offer both customer and employee Wi-Fi. One-third of the stores also plan a network upgrade this year.
But the goal of the survey, which was sponsored by network outsourcer EarthLink and Wi-Fi cloud management provider AirTight Networks, is to establish a benchmark that will help retail IT executives compare the state of their store technology against that of other retailers, said IHL President Greg Buzek.
"As many plan to invest in technologies like in-store Wi-Fi, payment systems, PCI compliance and security to keep customers loyal while protecting their data, it's important to understand the benefits and challenges others have already experienced," Buzek said.
The survey also found that 70 percent of retailers currently outsource their store-level WAN to managed service providers, and 34 percent plan to update their store-level Wi-Fi technologies in 2015.
One reason many retailers will require a WAN infrastructure update is to accommodate new mobile point-of-sale systems that are being implemented at the same time as the shift to EMV support this year. According to IHL, nearly 70 percent of specialty retailers are designing their next point-of-sale system based on a central order management system, and that will put up to five times more load on the network for core store transactions than most retailers use today.
But that's not the only reason for a shift in how Wi-Fi is used in-store. Beacons have largely taken over the role of tracking customers away from Wi-Fi, which was formerly used for that. Apple has even made that impractical for iPhones, because iOS8 now randomizes the MAC addresses of iPhones every time they connect to a Wi-Fi network, making that type of Wi-Fi-based customer analytics useless.
IHL said that once analysis of the final study data is complete, IHL, EarthLink and AirTight plan to release a benchmarking tool to let retailers see where they stack up, learn best practices, and develop a technology roadmap that differentiates the retailer's store experience and supports its business growth objectives.