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HomeNEWSBricks and WiFi: Connecting at a distance

Bricks and WiFi: Connecting at a distance

It’s no surprise by now that most consumers grip their smartphones tightly when walking around the local shops. Around 82 percent of American shoppers turn to their smartphones to make purchasing decisions and in our world of connectivity, WiFi is all but expected by New Zealand customers at the mall. So how can retailers provide this service, gather insights and not come across as too creepy either?rn

Aerohive is a provider of WiFi network solutions which currently services Auckland’s NorthWest Shopping Centre, among other New Zealand stores and malls. The Stride Property-owned mall has almost 100 retail stores, and uses data harvested from Aerohive’s services to track customer numbers and movement for an unobtrusive way of gaining market insight.

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Regional sales director for Aerohive Rhys Taylor says this data is made possible because smartphones are “promiscuous devices”, which constantly seek WiFi, bombarding internet access points as their owners walk around. When they come across NorthWest’s WiFi the access point receives the phone’s unique media access control (MAC) address, a unique identifier, irrelevant of whether the device connects. This information cannot be traced back to an ID and the identifier is encrypted before it is analysed.

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“It’s like counting car registrations,” says Taylor. The mall can see when a specific “rego” comes back to the mall, but does not know who the owner of the phone is. The numbers provide the hard data on the number of consumers, repeat visits and dwell time spent so the mall can measure the success of various mall elements, including layout and promotion. It helps give a bigger picture, as opposed to sales data from checkout, and with a flexible scale Aerohive can make the data as granular, down to shop level, or as general as needed.

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“We were looking to provide point of differentiation by deploying state of the art technology to deliver unrivalled facilities to retailers and an enhanced shopping experience for customers in store,” says Stride Property’s senior marketing manager, Linh Luong. “Through data analytics, we were able to capture data on how shoppers spend their time and where they visit.”

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A general insight NorthWest found through Aerohive, in partnership with technology firm Intellium, was that 52 percent of shoppers were visiting for the first time, showing room for marketing growth. The mall opened in October 2015.

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“This insight into consumer behaviour and business intelligence from Aerohive is one of the reasons wireless networking is now our fastest growing product suite at Intellium,” says Mark Taylor, sales director at Intellium.

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The development of iBeacons has also driven demand by retailers for store-developed apps, allowing push notifications to be sent to consumers to offer special promotions and information, perhaps reminding them to get nappies or letting them know they have a unique discount for the drink bottle they like. Although American shoppers seem willing to engage in these real-time iBeacon interaction and discounts, Taylor says brands still need to weigh up if these apps are worth the effort, especially in Australasia.

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“Every market has its own characteristics,” he says. “We are private people on this side of the world.”

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When Aerohive began working with The Warehouse Group, the large retailer’s own research showed New Zealanders’ were behind international consumers in their techno shopping habits.

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One international fast food chain Aerohive works with chooses to record visits at all their stores by simple people counting, to understand specific store needs, including for stores near offices or residential homes. Meanwhile, Aerohive found, almost by accident, that a leading women’s clothing retailer’s customers were less likely to wait for a changing room than for service – they’d wait up to 10 minutes for a changing room but would wait around 15 minutes to complete their purchase.

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There are other ways to find insights without scaring off customers. Retailers who offer hotspots typically require user identification before WiFi is connected. By allowing customers to use existing social media credentials, including Facebook and Twitter accounts to log in, it’s a hassle-free process for customers that allows retail reports to be generated with more specific customer demographics. iBeacon deployed promotions can also be more discreet yet useful. For example, mall map apps can help customers at larger malls avoid getting lost.

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Let’s not forget the branding and experiential benefits of providing your customers WiFi in store and around the mall. In its ‘Five Guidelines for Retailers’ publication, Aerohive says technology opens up exciting possibilities within retail, by providing opportunities to deliver better customer experiences and gain a competitive advantage by driving conversion, increasing spend and encouraging repeat visits and loyalty. Customers understandably like to have options and if they can compare prices online with store WiFi  they are more likely to be feel empowered and satisfied with their end purchase.

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Transformative  retailers, which leverage their consumers’ online identities within their own physical stores can close the divide between the two method of shopping for a more enjoyable experience. As Taylor points out, a busy customer that can check their emails while in a queue can be a lot more pleasant to deal with and they may also be able to stick around the mall longer.

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“Retail is the fastest growing market out there,” says Taylor. Businesses that want to keep up with the times are wise to invest in a system that can keep up with the pace, because at the end of the day: “We all want to be connected.”

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