Today’s modern customers do nearly everything online—order food, shop, leave reviews, and sometimes chronicle their lives in tedious detail on social media sites like Instagram and Twitter. This obviously poses a big challenge for brick-and-mortar businesses that rely on foot traffic. The old adage, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” certainly applies here, and all brick-and-mortar businesses should look to implement online revenue streams, such as with online ordering or online appointment booking. However, there’s also a simpler solution to consider that can help you capitalize on consumers’ insatiable appetite for the internet: offering them free Wi-Fi.
The Upside of Providing Free Wi-Fi at Your Business
Giving your customers free access to the internet has several distinct benefits, specifically helping your business:
- Attract foot traffic. Free Wi-Fi can be a good incentive to attract new walk-in customers, particularly if you have signage out front advertising it.
- Encourage customers to stay longer. This is a good thing when it leads to additional sales or attracts more customers by making your business look crowded and popular. However, as we’ll discuss in the “Downside” section below, that’s not always a guarantee.
- Keep up with the competition. If your competitors, particularly big chain retailers and restaurants, offer free Wi-Fi, this will keep them from gaining a competitive advantage over you.
- Free organic marketing. Your customers will be more likely to hop online to write a positive review, “check-in” to your location on social media, or take a selfie and tag your business, all of which can attract more customers.
The Downside of Providing Free Wi-Fi
Before you decide to go for it with the free wireless internet access, it’s also important to consider the costs of doing so.
- Upfront and ongoing costs and fees. If you’re going to offer free Wi-Fi, you need to do it right or risk angering your customers with spotty internet access. That means you’ll likely want to hire a professional to get the right internet router(s) installed, on top of paying for the monthly internet service fees.
- Security risks. Offering free internet can make your business vulnerable to hackers, so you’ll want to make sure to have a separate Wi-Fi router to use for your staff and any wireless POS systems or payment terminals you might have.
- Slow customer turnover. Encouraging customers to stay longer isn’t always a good thing, particularly if your goal is to turn tables quickly, for example, or if you find that customers stay for a long time but don’t purchase much.
- Change in ambiance. Free Wi-Fi encourages people to be on their phones or laptops, and that can reduce social interactions, which can be bad for certain business types.
So, Should My Business Offer Free Wi-Fi?
Generally speaking, free Wi-Fi probably makes sense for coffee shops, cafes, diners, bars, and nightclubs, as well as certain retailers and boutiques that will benefit from customers hanging around longer and potentially sharing photos on social media. Professional service providers and businesses like auto repair shops can also benefit by offering free Wi-Fi since it can keep clients happy while they’re waiting, and subsequently improve loyalty and repeat visits.
Meanwhile, free Wi-Fi probably isn’t worthwhile for quick-serve restaurants, fine dining restaurants, grocery stores, and retailers and businesses that provide quick services. In the end, though, it comes down to down to a cost-benefit analysis and what’s right for your business.