More Stores Embracing Free WiFi, Despite Showrooming

Posted by


Amidst the sobering realization that they can’t stop showrooming—customers checking out products, then price shopping via smartphones to buy them online for less—many stores have finally relented and opened up WiFi  networks in their stores. But does this make good sense for retailers? Some think so.


"It's where guests are going and where we need to be," said Target spokesperson, Eddie Baeb. Currently all 1,780 Target stores offer free WiFI.  "We love showrooming when we're the ones booking the sales," added Baeb. Other stores offering free WiFi include J.C. Penney, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Nordstrom. Slow adopters feared losing customers so they quickly jumped on the WiFi bandwagon.


By offering free WiFi throughout its stores, Macy’s shoppers can easily view and post reviews in real time, a tactic that has proven to encourage other shoppers to buy. Macy's plans to leverage its WiFi capability by adding in-store kiosks, giving in-store shoppers access to inventory over and above its brick-and-mortar shelving. Macy's is also expanding its Beauty Spot kiosk program with interactive screens, giving shoppers access to what it calls “an endless aisle” of beauty items. For added convenience, Macy’s salespeople will take payments right at the kiosk using a handheld device.


Do that many shoppers really use WiFi? Retailers are often mum about the details—pages viewed, rival store sites shoppers have frequented—and some are less blatant about advertising its availability. Still, retailers do see an upside. Before a shopper can connect to an in-store network, they must agree to a “terms of service” readout on their smartphone screen. The terms spell out that the network is not secure, and that the web sites customers visit, as well as the type of devices they use, will all be tracked.


Retailers can use this data to offer personalized coupons and fill shelves with hot selling merchandise. Bryan Wargo, chief executive of Nearbuy Systems, which helps stores monitor customer behavior on Wi-Fi networks and analyze the data, noted some specific advantages of WiFi data collection. "Merchants can understand which products are being showroomed," said Wargo. "They can ask themselves 'Should I reduce the price? Should I offer the customer a specific discount?'"


Leveraging the power of in-store WiFi, retailers have adopted tablet apps to encourage browsing and buying. "Tablet apps are driving a deeper understanding of products [and] encourage browsing, and in some cases impulse buying," said Lynly Schambes-Lenox, group product marketing manager for Digital Publishing Suites at Adobe. These apps keep shoppers in their virtual store, allowing them to quickly access the information they need. There’s a whole new breed of retail apps that fully exploit mobile technology, with enticing catalog photos and item locators that point customers to what they’re looking for without using a cumbersome browser.


The bottom line: despite the drawbacks of showrooming, free in-store WiFi is increasingly becoming the norm, with sophisticated apps and data collection technologies to fully exploit its practice. See more retail news at 


Image courtesy of Ambro/


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

Jobs to Watch