I’ve been beta testing 7signal’s Mobile Eye for iOS for a few weeks now by taking Wi-Fi performance readings everywhere I go. The iPhone app measures ping, throughput, web page download speed and will also calculate a MOS score for VoIP testing. I enjoy logging into the EyeQ platform and tracking the history. It’s also fun to compare the performance of SSIDs at different retail locations in my area. Once on the guest Wi-Fi network I try to take advantage of the store’s offerings. There are coupons, store maps, rewards, in addition to specials and deals that are highlighted. However, after hopping on and off guest Wi-Fi networks for three weeks at storefronts such as JCPenney, Target, Kohls, Staples, Lowes and Walmart, my observation is this: Guest Wi-Fi networks at retail stores really stink. What vexes me is that in an environment that’s supposed to warm me up to spending my money, I feel left out in the cold from a customer experience standpoint.
This experience begs an age-old question: If the experience is going to be this poor, then is it better not to offer it at all until the Wi-Fi can perform at a minimally acceptable level? I raise this point because high speed Internet is becoming as ubiquitous as the air it traverses. Therefore, any hitch in my mobile experience arouses a cognitive dissonance that is projected squarely in the direction of the Internet service provider. In this case, with my consumer hat on, I point the finger at the store. My answer to the question above is, “Yes, it’s better not to offer Wi-Fi if it’s going to be this terrible.” I say this because mobility and connectedness is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have. Good or bad, it defines us. Great retail experiences involve good expectation setting, and in the area of Wi-Fi services, these stores and many others are falling down and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of those consumers seeking something special when joining your guest Wi-Fi, like me.
Retailers need to continue to innovate if they are to continue to grow. A logical place to focus is on the in-store experience because if capitalized upon properly, can be a long-term sustainable competitive advantage held over pure e-retailers. However, based upon my recent experience, it appears that there is very little urgency to improve guest Wi-Fi. To compare this experience to ones I have received in an adjacent space, restaurants, places like Chik-fil-A, Starbucks and Panera all seem to get it. Quality guest Wi-Fi is a customer magnet for these establishments, creating a social, “sticky” setting for customers eager to eat, drink and work on their laptops. But this mental model has not successfully transferred over into the retail shopping arena and I do not understand why. Is it a case of sitting vs. standing? I do not know, but I feel strongly that stores are missing an opportunity to figure this out and profit from it.
When my phone or laptop would pick up Guest Wi-Fi beacons, I used to get excited with anticipation. But based on my experience with many stores and establishments, my enthusiasm has waned because the Wi-Fi experience rarely meets my expectations and I don’t feel like a “guest” at all. In our culture, a guest is to be treated kindly and respectfully. We are to be hospitable and welcoming toward our guests. It has a very positive connotation and implies a going-above-and-beyond sort of friendliness. Therefore, prioritize upgrading or optimizing your Wi-Fi network. Otherwise, if your guest Wi-Fi experience isn’t going to measure up, then please spare us the pleasantries and drop the “guest”.