Free WiFi at Retail Locations: Is it Really Free?

By Jen Cohen Crompton | Small Business

Location-based technology is far from a new concept, but it is absolutely kicking its capabilities up a notch as it integrates with consumers day-to-day activities. Arguably, the tracking technology used by companies to gain customer data may be useful and a bonus for some, and for others, it may be a bit too intrusive. As retail companies continue leveraging mobile and moving toward this Free WiFi at Retail Locations: Is it Really Free? image 272241 l srgb s gl 300x199Free WiFi at Retail Locations: Is it Really Free?technology, be weary/excited about that free Wi-Fi.

So what is location-based tracking, how can it affect you, and how does it link to free Wi-Fi?

Location-based tracking technology is configured to use the GPS signal from a smartphone to track the exact location of an individual equipped with their device. To use location-based marketing, companies can target the location of a smart device and use as a trigger to send a push notifications or alerts to someone in real-time as they are close to a location where the offer can be redeemed.

In a retail store, this technology uses the combination of in-store Wi-Fi and a customer device to track an “opted-in” customer as they shop through the location. The location-based technology collects data about the customer’s action and the aggregated data allows store marketers to understand customers’ physical buying habits and “course of action.”

Merchants can use this technology by having a Meraki wireless router with a free feature called Presence. When a customer enters a store, they are invited to join the complimentary Wi-Fi network and if they join, they are “opted-in.” The routers connected to the system collect information from nearby smart devices and provide business owners with analytics such as median visit length, repeat visit rate, total number of visitors, etc. Indicators also include mapping the path of individual customers, which could reveal the displays getting foot traffic and garnering attention – all while enjoying free internet access. Or is it really free?

Most customers are familiar with this type of consumer tacking as it happens online when they shop through an ecommerce site. Those sites generally track a visitor’s entry point, items added to their cart, how long they were on the site, and what they actually purchased. A visitor may even receive an email a day later reminding them that they left something in their shopping cart if they didn’t make a purchase. Now, the technology is headed in-store.

High-end retailer, Nordstrom, trailblazed the use of this technology by taking it offline and implementing an onsite tracking trial experiment at their locations. Nordstrom kicked off their campaign, but also added a layer of transparency to comply with any worries about privacy, and posted a sign letting shoppers know that they were being tracked as the logged into the Wi-Fi. As shoppers became aware of what they were trading for free internet access, they became unnerved and quickly complained, citing privacy infringement.

So how does this technology affect you? Businesses using this technology may offer some shiny incentives to opting into the system and having behaviors tracked. This could mean free products, hefty [relevant] discounts, and providing a more personalized shopping experience allowing shoppers to save time and money (in addition to the free Wi-Fi). From the business end, this use of location-based technology will allow consumer tracking in terms of their physical actions and habits, and will help businesses relate to their customers and run their business functions more efficiently.

So ultimately, the question lies in asking consumers, “How much data [if any] are you willing [and happy] to provide, and at what cost?” Asking consumers this question will allow marketers and companies to understand where the cool/creepy line needs to be drawn, and what personal data is really worth to the consumers who are (sometimes unknowingly) giving it up.

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