Free WiFi Quietly Becomes Widespread at Retail
With little fanfare, Target, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and Saks joined several other chains just before the start of the holiday season in installing free Wi-Fi access across their locations.
The introductions follow wireless rollouts at Macy’s, Sam’s Club and Sears last year as well as Nordstrom in 2010. Best Buy and Barnes & Noble also offer free WiFi, and Walmart reportedly does in some stores.
Access quietly arrived despite many stories this holiday around retailers combatting showrooming. The rollout also comes as customers have grown accustomed to free access at cafes, airports, fast food chains, hotels and elsewhere.
"It’s where guests are going and where we need to be," Eddie Baeb, a spokesperson for Target told Fortune magazine. "We love showrooming when we’re the ones booking the sales."
At Target, free WiFi helps provide better access for shoppers to the discounter’s mobile app, and also enables guests to redeem Target mobile coupons and scan QR codes throughout the store.
But Fortune found in visits to some chains in San Francisco that most aren’t loudly broadcasting those benefits. Some of Macy’s doors were affixed with "free Wi-Fi inside" stickers. At Target, a video screen at the entrance of the store flashed messages about free WiFi. Saks had no signage indicating the service.
To connect to the WiFi network, shoppers sign off on terms on their smartphones. These often disclose that the open network will track the websites customers visit and the type of devices they use.
Stores could potentially use such data to personalize deals to shoppers. Knowing what items a shopper is searching for can also help identify merchandise they should be stocking. But the stores contacted by Fortune indicated that they are not yet using information they collect to do anything except to keep out hackers.
Many larger grocers, again quietly, appear to have introduced the service in recent years, as well. In extending WiFi to all its locations this year, Big Y, one of the largest independently owned supermarket chains in New England, said access will help shoppers manage their profiles, view store flyers on Bigy.com, enter contests, and explore special savings.
- Why stores are finally turning on to WiFi – Fortune
- Target Unveils New Price Match, Exclusive Gifts and Digital Offerings for the Holiday Season – Target
- Free WiFi At All Big Y’s – Big Y
Why aren’t stores promoting free WiFi access to a greater degree? In what ways, if at all, may free WiFi access become more critical for retailers in the years ahead?