Do you manage IT for a multi-location retail chain? Do you find it challenging to cost-effectively provide reliable, secure, high-speed WiFi services to employees and customers?
Or is IT just one of many hats that you wear in addition to your real job?
Either way, whether you’re talking about managing WiFi services or more broadly, managing network services, in retailing wireless connectivity is now just as important as electricity, HVAC, and running water.
National retailers are struggling to attract staff. Some recently deceased or terminal retailers like Toys “R” Us and Sears have even blamed staffing shortages for accelerating their demise.
With that in mind, how satisfied can employees be if your WiFi service is slow as molasses or subject to several outages each week? Can point of sale equipment even function reliably?
When registers can’t process checkouts, employees can’t generate sales commissions and customers can’t complete purchases.
Frustrated, perhaps even resentful, employees. Angry customers. That’s quite a recipe for reputation damage from scathing reviews on Glassdoor, Facebook, Google, and Yelp.
In this article, you’ll learn about trends in brick and mortar vs. online retailing, as well as four ways that you can address one key technology component of these challenges with WiFi as a Service (WaaS).
The State of Traditional Retailing and Battling Online Competition
Each month, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys about 4,900 retailers to get a pulse on the prior month’s sales. The U.S. retail sales report looks at both recent growth, or lack thereof, as well as year-over-year change.
Where are the bright spots in retail? Drug stores, appliance stores, and online retail.
Which kinds of retailers are struggling? Clothing stores and departments stores. Furniture and auto sales also are showing pretty flat growth.
Online retailers, on the other hand, are enjoying a 9.9% annual increase and now account for 11% of total retail sales.
Brick and mortar retailers, that lack significant online revenue, should be concerned, as online retailing, relative to retail as a whole, has doubled its market share over the past decade.
Like It or Not, Every Retailer is Now in the Technology Business
It’s not difficult to see why online retailing is taking market share from traditional retailing: big changes in consumer preferences.
Your customers are just a lot more digitally-savvy and connected than they were compared to even a few years ago.
And that’s the reason why it’s more important than ever for savvy retail executives to capitalize on every opportunity they can to improve employee productivity and provide a better customer experience -- to drive revenue growth. In this context, technology matters a lot.
In the past, retailers often purchased expensive WiFi hardware and contracted for IT services.
They kept their fingers crossed that it all worked together and didn’t become obsolete, or break before they could pry more budget out of their CFOs.
While that traditional approach made sense five or ten years ago, it no longer makes sense in a world where each of your employees and customers now uses several devices, the bandwidth requirements have grown exponentially due to video, and the security threats from hackers and other bad actors are off the charts.
So what can a retail executive, with responsibilities for IT infrastructure, do to make sure that crappy WiFi service doesn’t become their Achilles heel?
Consider these four reasons why managed WiFi as a Service (WaaS) is a no-brainer for retailers.
1) Managed WiFi for Every Location
Before AMZN (the ticker symbol for Amazon.com, Inc. traded on NASDAQ) became **the** four letter word muttered by every frustrated retail executive, retailers used to love to brag about the large size of their stores.
With super-sized stores, of way more than 10,000 square feet, retailers could afford to hire IT staff either on-site at each location or share IT staff between a few nearby regional locations.
However, in today’s cutthroat retailing environment, it’s very common to find that most locations have no dedicated IT employee.
So managing network services, and more specifically WiFi, often falls on a store manager with dozens of other responsibilities -- that have more to do with babysitting vendors, employees, and customers -- rather than wrangling WiFi access points, device configurations, and ISP connections.
As a result, over-taxed location managers are so much better off when they can contract for managed WiFi as a Service with a company that provides 24/7 support services, monthly network health reports, and Tier 2 support.
Managed WaaS saves time and money, especially for retailers that don’t have a large IT team that can proactively and reactively address issues surrounding managed WiFi and broader network services needs.
Let’s face it: providing WiFi for multiple locations is expensive -- typically much more costly than most initially realize.
As a result, transferring from an outdated model that depends on capital expenditures (CapEx), to a subscription-based model centered around operating expenses (OpEx), makes a ton of sense for most multi-location retailers.
2) Cloud Software Built for the WiFi Needs of Retailers
What’s more frustrating than a crashed WiFi network on one of your busiest shopping days of the year? Your employees are exasperated from trying to work without functioning registers. Your customers are livid.
And there’s a social media firestorm that’s tanked your store’s reputation on Facebook, Google, and Yelp during the past 90 minutes.
What could top that? Not knowing why this happened -- or how or when things will get back to normal.
When a retail manager has access to an easy-to-use cloud software platform that’s built specifically for the WiFi needs of multi-location retailing, a sense of calm is almost immediately restored.
All of a sudden, live heatmap technology allows for easy troubleshooting of network problems. Without this kind of technology, it’s like a store manager finding out that there’s an active shoplifting incident going on somewhere in their facility, but having no way to identify the culprit or deploy resources towards mitigating the damages.
With this kind of cloud software, store managers and even their staff can check the status and health of wireless access points by location and troubleshoot problems before they escalate into network-down emergencies.
3) Ease of Adding New Locations
In all of the chaos and 100 hour work-weeks leading up to the opening of a new location, has any store manager in their right mind ever sat down on a crate, put their hand on their chin and said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could spend 10 hours a week for the next four weeks figuring out how to get WiFi services installed here?”
Seriously, who has time for that? Certainly not you with 12 full-time, 24 part-time, and 48 seasonal jobs you have to fill in the next 28 days!
Fortunately, there is a much better way.
Look for a managed WiFi as a Service partner that makes it easy-peasy for you to add new locations.
For example, there should be a project wizard where you can start a new project without having to speak with a sales rep or account manager. That way, you can kick-off this process when it’s most convenient for you. Evenings. Weekends. Holidays. No problem.
● Launch the new project wizard.
● Upload the floor plans to your new location (which can be as simple as sending a PDF if you have it or just taking a picture with your smartphone ).
● Answer a few questions.
● Then click to submit your new location request to the engineering team for review and design.
From start to finish in as little as 10 minutes.
From there, you’ll get informative videos and status messages to keep you in the loop on your project status every step of the way.
And if any additional questions come up, you’ll have a quick and easy way to get answers. No annoying sales meeting to schedule. No hoops to jump through.
It’s all about saving you valuable time and money. So you can do what you do best: open a fantastic new location! (and leave the managed WiFi services to the experts!)
4) Easier to Manage Guest Services
So now that you’ve thought about how to provide managed WiFi services for all of your locations, use a modern cloud platform that’s designed to help retailers stay on top of network health, and make adding new locations a breeze, there’s one more potential IT demon to tackle: managing guest services for your customers.
Remember, a big part of the reason why so many retailers feel like they’re playing defense to online retailing is because your customers have become addicted to their devices and 7/24, high-speed, reliable connectivity.
In much the same way that customers won’t stick around very long if your store’s air conditioning is broken on a 90-degree day, if your location’s WiFi feels like a circa 1999 AOL dial-up modem, your customers will revolt, sometimes quite vocally online, and take their purchasing power with them.
However when you get in front of this need, you can adopt an easy-to-use, cloud-based, managed WiFi platform that helps you provide exceptional guest services.
You can then publish custom splash pages that make it very straightforward to keep customers in the loop about promotions and special events.
You can also include custom sign-in options. Perhaps all customers get access to standard guest WiFi, while your VIP loyalty club members get access to premium, high-speed WiFi and special discounts.
And since your company has likely already made a significant investment in branding and advertising -- both online and offline -- make sure that the WiFi management platform you adopt helps to reinforce both your branding and advertising goals.
The Bottom Line
As mentioned earlier, every retailer, like it or not, is now in the technology business.
The executives and managers that embrace this new battleground will be best able to weather aggressive online competition.
Those that bury their heads in the sand and think that WiFi is a luxury, rather than a utility and entitlement, would be wise to keep their resumes current.