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Offering free WiFi can make you a big hit – and help you mine big data

Free WiFi gives your customers a reason to linger. Andrew Gibson, senior manager at Virgin Media Business explains this and other surprising benefits.
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Free WiFi gives your customers a reason to linger. Andrew Gibson, senior manager at Virgin Media Business explains this and other surprising benefits.

Most people are connected to the internet in some way at most times – whether they are sitting in front of a computer, using the data on their mobile phones or seeking out WiFi in a local café. It’s the way of the modern world, and as much as you can rail against everyone having their eyes glued to screens these days, it’s certainly done wonders for businesses and the rise of flexible working.

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There are a tonne of benefits for flexible working. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that each and every one of these benefits its facilitated by an internet connection.

On the grid

Flexible working is made so much simpler by the vast range of cloud services that are available – you can catch up on emails, log in to view joint projects or company dashboards, hold video conferences and online meetings – the possibilities are almost endless.

Businesses can therefore utilise this working culture to increase customer loyalty.

“Our lives are busy and we want to always be connected, so the minute we have any downtime, be it forced or sought, our hand reaches for the screen in our pocket or bag,” said Andrew Gibson, senior manager at Virgin Media Business.

“Going off-grid is a frightening prospect for many, connectivity for the life affirming screen is essential and the better the connectivity and less it costs me and the more likely I am to stay.”

For example, a café offering fast, free internet would be more appealing to an entrepreneur waiting around for a meeting than one that charges, or has poor connectivity. It follows that the longer they can be persuaded to hang around, the more opportunity you have to sell to them.

“Connectivity encourages customers to linger. There is no need to move on to seek out connectivity, it’s free and it’s fast here,” explained Gibson.

“So, I’ll stay longer, spending more and come back again.  And whilst I’m here I’ll let everyone know I’m here and tell them why it’s great. Perhaps in the future I’ll arrange to meet people here, confident that I can kill time while I’m waiting and get in touch if there are problems, and tell my network of screen addicts to visit.”

In fact, it’s more than just a perk – it’s necessary, and expected by many business owners.

“Connectivity distracts customers turning an unbearable wait into a palatable experience that wasn’t seen as a disruption.”

Monetise the grid

Offering free WiFi makes good business sense. It provides your customers with a freebie that encourages them to spend more time at your establishment and recommend you to others in the area.

However, goodwill is not the only way to monetise connectivity.

“Businesses offering spare internet connectivity in the shape of customer WiFi in exchange for a few details can use that insight to further monetise the service,” explained Gibson.

Some examples of the ways in which data scraping can help your business include:

• Gathering contact details to share newsletters and upcoming events and promotions
• Estimating how many times people visit on average – then you can push offers once they have reached their average monthly/weekly visit
• You can use the data to create appropriate offers to drive footfall, or shift patterns during quiet periods
• You can learn how customers move around your shop – are any areas not seeing enough footfall? Should you move aisles around to create a more even distribution?
• Understanding your demographic is also made easier with this kind of data – you can see what gender, age group and interests your target market have, and design marketing campaigns to suit.

Even if you don’t see the benefit of offering free WiFi simply as a customer services perk, the benefits of collecting this kind of data are undeniable.

Free WiFi will keep your customers hanging around for longer, and it can help collect market research quietly in the background while you carry on with the day-to-day running of your business.

This article is part of our Real Business Broadband campaign, which seeks to provide a mouthpiece for business leaders to vocalise the broadband issues preventing their businesses from reaching full potential. We’d love to hear your take on the debate and where you think the UK needs to make drastic changes – and feel to ask us your broadband queries. Get in touch via email (shane.schutte@realbusiness.co.uk) or join in on the action using #rbBroadband.

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About Author

Letitia Booty

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Real Business. She has a BA in english literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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