Everywhere you go, free Wi-Fi access is practically ubiquitous. You see customers huddled around their tablets and laptops at coffee shops, shopping malls, restaurants and more. Wi-Fi access at hotels and resorts is virtually standard – just join a frequent visitor club or similar promotion to get that free password access.
From the business's point of view, the perks extend far beyond customer convenience: Wi-Fi can be a very cost-effective way to promote foot traffic, increase purchasing, garner positive reviews and more. And the numbers are impressive:
A study by technology research and consulting firm the Yankee Group showed that 96 percent of respondents prefer businesses that offer free Wi-Fi.
79 percent of businesses say it helps keep customers happy while they wait for service.
64 percent of respondents have chosen a restaurant based on free Wi-Fi availability.
Studies show several other benefits, including more time spent on the premises and increased customer loyalty. And you might find that it to be a considerable boon to a less-obvious establishment, even those not named Starbucks or Hilton.
"A free Wi-Fi network can be beneficial for any place where you have to wait for an extended period of time or you want to keep people there longer," says Jared Ruth, director of marketing for Cox Business. "That includes hair salons, laundromats, doctors' offices, even oil change outlets and car washes."
More money, more time
Don't think for a minute that free Wi-Fi is simply an invitation for hipsters to sit idly in your shop for hours on end. Though it increases time spent onsite, it often prompts customers to spend more cash, as well.
A study by marketing strategy firm iGR found that over 60 percent of small businesses reported that they attracted more customers by offering complimentary Wi-Fi, and half said it definitely increased their bottom line.
Keeping customers connected also does wonders for customer relations. If they're getting something useful for free, they're more likely to return. And if they join a club and register for access, it's an effective way for your business to keep track of who's showing up and why.
Track your customers
Wi-Fi offers a great opportunity to track how frequently customers visit, when they visit and how long they stay — though businesses should be transparent about this. Want to keep tabs on which promotions work and which don't? Wi-Fi makes it easy to follow and adapt to customer behavior.
Another big perk for businesses: You can offer promotional material via a custom Wi-Fi splash page, as well as require customers to register with their email addresses. That way you can send special offers and initiate customer appreciation programs by text or email – coupons and discounts for birthdays or frequent visitors.
So what's the best way to get regular and potential customers connected – through social media, by joining a customer loyalty program or simply via an open connection?
"It really depends on the business and the model that works for them," Ruth says. "It can be as simple or complex as you want depending on your level of expertise and what information you want to extract from your customers. If your goal is simply to get customers on the Web quickly and easily, then an open connection is probably best."
But if you want to reward loyalty, "then you would want to set up an authentication splash page to connect to the service," he adds.
Make them "like" you
Many venues encourage customers to connect through social media logins, often via Facebook. And in return for Wi-Fi you might get a new follower, or a bunch of new "likes" that are displayed not only to your followers but also every one of the customer's Facebook friends.
But there's a simple yet serious caveat – protecting the security of your business as well as your customers. So what's the best way to provide a secure connection?
"Ideally the business provides a separate network from the business network," Ruth says. "The best option is setting up a separate provider service altogether through a cable modem. A single modem and Wi-Fi router can work if the business knows how to set up the connection on a different SSID/Network. It does increase risk to the business if not set up correctly."
Whatever you decide, to ensure both your business's and customer's security, seek advice from your local Internet provider based on your specific needs and goals.