Connection & Coverage – Why Public WiFi remains vital to our Shopping Centres, Retail Parks & Town Centres

Despite the negativity of the post-pandemic landscape, the current financial climate and the continuing upward trajectory of online retail; physical retail experiences continue to be highly relevant as the need for reconnection remains strong. With the physical store embodying a vital element of conveying a brand’s message via product, marketing and services, it is important that they continue to recognise and adapt to customer trends – not least the prevalence of almost all age groups to use their mobile devices while out shopping. However, a significant number of shopping centres, retail parks and high streets across the UK are missing out on vital revenue due to their inability to provide customers with an adequate mobile signal, or access to 3, 4 & 5G connectivity while onsite. The frustrations this inevitably causes visitors during their shopping trip undeniably necessitates the continued investment in free public WiFi networks – not only to enable physical retail locations to fully optimise the customer experience, but also  to ensure these environments remain an attractive destination for consumers. 

With mobile devices being more closely aligned with the shopping process than ever before, a reliable digital connection at all times is understandably now considered an essential amenity. Basic activities such as checking and comparing prices, updating social media profiles, and simply keeping in touch with friends and family whilst out for a shopping trip are now considered to be habitual elements of the shopping experience, and the inability to carry these activities out can have potentially detrimental impacts on the customer experience, as well as visitor loyalty. Particularly at peak times in the retail calendar – such as Christmas, Valentines and the school summer holidays – the inability to perform these simple activities can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction, leading to shorter shopping trips and smaller basket sizes. 

There are a number of unavoidable factors which are unfortunately contributing to these frustrations – for example, many shopping centres are built with materials such as concrete and steel, which radio waves cannot penetrate. The further addition of infrastructure within the building such as escalators, lifts and reinforcement materials throughout the building can create signal issues, particularly for underground facilities such as car parks. Even in areas of good mobile coverage from different providers, signals can drop by around 30 decibels inside the shopping centre compared to outside. 

Similarly, the location of retail parks in outer-urban or rural areas as well as some of our more remote town centres and high streets means that retailers in these environments also lose out due to lack of network coverage and inadequate mobile signal. While there are currently plans to improve internet service in all areas of the UK as part of the government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, the proposals for nationwide 4G availability are not expected to be achieved until 2025, followed by majority access to 5G by 2030. With the full impact of these improvements not likely to be felt for some years to come, providing a free public WiFi network in these environments is vital to ensure that they deliver on visitor expectations. 

With retailers being challenged more than ever before, it is imperative that appropriate measures are put in place to encourage footfall and spend as much as possible. Landlords should also be conscious of the challenges facing their retail customers, with consumer confidence at its lowest for generations. With household budgets tightening, customers are likely to be canceling their expensive mobile data contracts which they now consider to be a luxury rather than an essential commodity. If retailers are to continue to attract a cash-strapped consumer, who are now more likely than ever to shop around for the best deals both online and instore, the existence of a free WiFi network in retail environments will enable tenants to continue to facilitate strong customer engagement through access to discounts, offers, loyalty schemes and services. 

For more information on how our cost-effective public WiFi and digital marketing solutions can help retain and drive footfall and customer spend, get in touch with us today!

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