Wi-Fi affects nearly everything within a store or restaurant—from the customer experience to employee engagement. Digitally dependent, cloud-based businesses require strong, “complete coverage” Wi-Fi. When Wi-Fi is weak or coverage doesn’t adequately span the entire location’s footprint, customers may struggle to make mobile payments and employees may become frustrated by simple tasks.
I spoke recently with Abhishek Nayak, a Wi-Fi strategist here at Hughes, and together we’ve identified nine areas to consider when making decisions about your Wi-Fi set up. These tips can help retailers overcome potential in-store Wi-Fi woes:
Install it Right
It is critical to have Access Points (AP) installed by a certified technician. Professional installation ensures best practices are followed for both indoor and the more complex outdoor APs. Using indoor APs for outdoor Wi-Fi coverage should be avoided at all costs.
Cover Your Bases
Too often retailers are simply not using enough APs to achieve adequate coverage. In one situation, a customer was using only two APs, when they needed five. This caused Wi-Fi dead zones within the store, impacting operations as well as the guest Wi-Fi experience. It’s a good idea to consider backup Wi-Fi connectivity, too, in case an AP goes down.
Use Enterprise Grade Hardware
Don’t count on consumer solutions for a business application. In a retail setting, only multi-band enterprise grade Wi-Fi APs should be installed. These APs can provide all the features required to ensure optimal performance and secure access. Wi-Fi interference is dynamic, causing channels that were once available to become severely congested. It can also come from outside your store when a neighbor installs Wi-Fi digital signage players or video surveillance cameras or neighboring rogue wireless devices attack the network.
Count on the Pros
Rely on certified Wi-Fi engineers to design and configure your Wi-Fi infrastructure to ensure spectrum is best utilized for a seamless experience. While 2.4Ghz is appealing for its reach, numerous other cordless technologies use the same frequency band, which can cause 2.4Ghz to become congested. The ability to roam between the APs is another important aspect that should not be overlooked. You would want to avoid constant re-authentications when a device moves from one area of the store to another.
Expect Higher User Density
As IoT devices continue to multiply not just for the store but also for the consumer, stores can literally have hundreds of devices attempting to connect to Wi-Fi during peak busy times. Increased connectivity requests can quickly overwhelm the APs, leaving customers and employees randomly unable to complete critical revenue-generating transactions. Newer technologies like Wi-Fi 6 address this issue by not only providing higher throughputs than previous versions, but also specifically supporting higher user density.
Protect your guests, your employees, and your business from bad actors and from each other. While Wi-Fi is a powerful enabler, it carries meaningful security requirements that must be addressed. Advanced authentication for enterprise Wi-Fi devices is highly recommended. Also, carefully assess your wired/wireless network segmentation design. You can have purpose specific Service Set Identifiers (SSIDs) to specifically map to the appropriate virtual LAN (VLANs) to enhance and maintain the integrity of your cybersecurity posture.
Put it to Work for Your Business
Consider your data analytics strategy. Once you have the appropriate number of APs for adequate Wi-Fi coverage, you will likely have enough to also support triangulation and the ability to analyze customer behaviors in the store. Guest Wi-Fi analytics (dwell time, repeat visits, etc.) can richly inform your store operations and provide tangible metrics to gauge the customer experience. Combined with Captive Portal and Customer Engagement service, Wi-Fi analytics not only help to promote your brand but can also significantly increase customer interaction and loyalty. The Captive Portal provides the initial brand experience when the customer first connects to the Store Wi-Fi. Customer Engagement service enables the brand to offer sales incentives based on the customer’s real-time, in-store shopping behavior.
Manage It Proactively
Carefully assess your management tools. The remote management of complex store Wi-Fi configurations with over hundreds and even thousands of locations and the task of implementing routine adjustments (e.g., password changes, software updates) is no trivial effort. Mistakes may carry costly operational consequences.
Plan for the Future
Strategically plan your transition to new Wi-Fi standards. Current Wi-Fi standards (e.g., Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, Wi-Fi 7 etc.) have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to cost, connection speed, coverage and device density. Carefully time your transition to the latest standards to achieve maximum business benefit. Though Wi-Fi standards are backward compatible, newer AP technologies can only be implemented if store devices connecting to the Wi-Fi are certified for the same technology. It doesn’t make sense to upgrade to higher speed and density standards until both consumer and store devices are compatible and capable.
Taking the time and effort to carefully and strategically design your store Wi-Fi can have a meaningful impact on your retail operations. The suggestions outlined above, along with support from a Managed Wi-Fi provider, can enable you to better engage customers, support employee engagement and achieve your business objectives.