Shoppers are more demanding than ever. Browsing the shops is no longer solely about handing over your credit card and carrying large bags around a shopping centre. Technology savvy customers have become more expectant of an entirely immersive day out. Easy to access WiFi in each and every shop and across an entire shopping centre is becoming the norm as retailers have to address what the customer wants, rather than purely what they want to give them. 

In the case of shopping centres they have traditionally been owned by landlords who have focused primarily on facilities and been predominantly invisible to the end user; the customer. There is now a clear trend towards shopping centres driving brand awareness that the shopper both identifies, and connects with, linking up everything from food to fashion.

Consumers themselves are driving this change. For example, they expect free WiFi wherever they go. A report last year revealed that two thirds of UK adults use social media every day. It also showed that Facebook was checked by 56% of the UK population more than once a day and you can bet some of that is done when a customer is out shopping. From the local coffee shop to a large chain store they want to log in with ease. No fuss. Whereas not so long ago access to Instagram or Twitter may have only been the expectation of the young, it can no longer be seen as such.

In fact, the recent State of Bricks and Mortar Survey 2017, which looks at the retail sector across the world, discovered that 55% of people surveyed worldwide said they looked at a mobile device whilst shopping. In China it’s a staggering 92% of the population. The same survey revealed 83% of Americans use it to compare prices, 78% search for store discounts whilst 67% of younger shoppers want to receive redeemable offers straight to their phone.

In allowing this unlimited access retailers themselves can reap significant rewards. Even if the business itself has to pay for the cost of WiFi installation they can, if they use the correct product, find themselves with valuable data about their customers and most importantly, their purchasing habits and preferences. In doing so they will help drive key metrics such as footfall, dwell and loyalty, which will ultimately mean more money is spent.

This useful customer information and footfall data can be collected and used to better target in-store offers and signage. Information discovered about customer dwell time may affect where stores place their newest products or even their Christmas offers.

Giving customer service staff the ability to check stock on a mobile device rather than have to leave the shop floor could itself increase sales. So, they don’t have the shoe you want in the right size? Well, this one they do. The same Bricks and Mortar survey revealed that 60% of consumers hated waiting in line and 47% became annoyed when an item was out of stock. Free WiFi and customer offers to mobile devices could kill both of these frustrations dead in the water. Happy customers do spend more money.

Similarly, heat-mapping and zone flow information might suggest an ideal time and place for customers to receive bespoke offers direct to their mobile devices. Something as simple as a free coffee whilst a customer is waiting a longer time than usual to be served at the cafe can reap dividends for retailers and the customer. Who doesn’t like a free offer? These real-time interactions provide clear customer and business benefits.

For example, Nisa Cardiff and Camden Market are already utilising the geo-fencing feature, drawing invisible lines around particular sales areas or locations. This allows the business to gauge what purchases the customer might be considering and send offers in real-time to their mobile device. Nisa have found that connecting customers has brought more people into the shop and increased their dwell time. In turn they’ve purchased more snacks and coffee.

With online sales rocketing, bricks and mortar retailers can be at the forefront of a drive to bring people back to stores. Vouchers and offers combined with easy and seamless WiFi access can help them do it. In a volatile economic market, retailers must understand their customers and react to their needs quickly and effectively. In return, they’ll create loyal consumers, happy to spend in an environment that offers them the flexibility and service they demand.