The use cases for Wi-Fi as it relates to retail mobile initiatives are well highlighted in the National Retail Federation's Mobile Retail Initiative. This initiative offers best practices and recommendations for retailers entering the mobile space (even retailers offering solutions now can benefit). In this initiative, the NRF has developed the Mobile Retailing Blueprint, with release of version 2 of the document occurring last week at the NRF conference.
Several use-cases are directly related to Wi-Fi networking in retail environments. Let's focus on the consumer facing applications, rather than the well-established corporate use-cases which include inventory control, price verification, stocking, voice over Wi-Fi, push-to-talk (walki-talkies), warehouse management, etc.
Examples of consumer oriented services that can be delivered over Wi-Fi networks, driven either by store associates or directly by the customer, include the following:
- Basic Network Connectivity (especially in weak cellular areas which are common even in urban areas)
- Network Reliability (better than 3G/4G data services)
- Product Lookup
- Product Availability (in-store or on-line, cross-channel)
- In-Store Navigation
- Location Based Services
- Advertisement at point of product interaction (in-aisle, coupons, promotions, etc.)
- Business Analytics for the retailer (paths, dwell times, signage effectiveness, etc.)
- Associate Tracking for Customer Support
- Push Notifications (coupons, specials, weekly flyer, etc.)
- Mobile application data refresh (background or active)
- Mobile Commerce (mCommerce) / E-Commerce (by customer)
- Self-Inventory and Self-Checkout of Cart / Basket (by customer)
- Remote Transaction Suspend / Resume (by associates)
- Mobile Point-of-Sale (mPOS) (by associates)
Pay attention to sections 6 and 7 of the blueprint that specifically relate to Wi-Fi technology scenarios. In additions, table 22 does a good job of mapping mobile retail scenarios to a broader set of technologies.
The fear of competitive consumer shopping is real, which will force retailers to offering compelling advantages to customers while in-store at the point of product interaction (standing in-front of the product). Today, consumers are increasingly pulling out their mobile phones and researching competitor pricing of the same / similar products already. Offering mobile services, initially through cellular networks but expanding to Wi-Fi networks to increase reliable access and delivery, with highly integrated mobile marketing and commerce services allows the retailer to engage the customer directly and offer compelling reasons for them to purchase at their establishment. Failure to do so will leave retailers at a competitive dis-advantage.
I highly recommend that Wi-Fi architects in retail organizations read the Mobile Retail Blueprint and begin formulating solutions to the use-cases presented. Begin engaging marketing and guest experience teams to identify requirements early in the design and development process of these mobile initiatives.
In addition, evaluate whether an in-house built Wi-Fi guest solution or an externally managed solution is appropriate for your organization. AT&T is the pre-dominant managed service provider in the U.S., with Wi-Fi hotspot usage growing 300% year-over-year.