This post is part of our Business Problem Turnaround series. Read the entire series here on the Clover blog, and explore for more better business tips and tactics.
Not long ago, free Wi-Fi was considered a risky proposition, with technical problems and loitering customers heading the list of concerns. But today, the potential disadvantages are far outweighed by the advantages.
According to a 2014 survey, foot traffic, time on premises, and amount spent by customers were higher in establishments that provide free Wi-Fi. From retail to quick service restaurants to car repair shops, many consumer-facing small businesses are capitalizing on these benefits, while others are preparing to jump on board.
To get going, here are some ideas on how to seize opportunities for all kinds of businesses.
Build clientele for quick service restaurants.
Peek inside many quick service restaurants, and you’ll probably see the usual diners who want a fast bite to eat. But another kind of customer has become increasingly common: mobile workers with laptops.
Today, 55 million Americans are independent workers, according to a 2016 study commissioned by the nonprofit Freelancers Union. This roving labor force is looking for spaces to connect, collaborate, create—or just get a change of scenery.
Restaurant owners who attract them with tables, outlets, and reliable and secure Wi-Fi report bottom-line benefits. Customers stay longer, buy more, and bring others through the doors.
On the flip side, a flow of chatty diners can clash with tables of quiet workers focused on their screens. To accommodate their different needs, restaurant owners might designate specific areas as Quiet Zones or Talking Zones.
Transform sleepy coffee shops into bustling Internet cafes.
When Starbucks ushered in unlimited free Wi-Fi to its 11,000 outlets, independent coffee shops had little choice but to follow. Many transitioned from laid-back spots for grabbing a cup of coffee into alternative workspaces for students and independent workers.
While the extra traffic and business is great, some people never want to leave. “Laptop squatters” can be especially problematic in high-rent urban areas. Many coffee shops and other businesses are experimenting with creative solutions—such as revolving access codes tied to purchasing requirements, laptop rates, reserved seating, and more—to free up tables and boost overall sales.
Repurpose restaurants into co-working offices during off-peak hours.
Even some full-service restaurants are tapping into the alternative workplace trend. Rather than letting their restaurants languish before the dinner crowds arrive, some owners are renting out workspace to the laptop crowd. Wi-Fi service makes the transformation easy.
Facilitate business meetings with enterprise-level Wi-Fi.
Whether face-to-face or via video chat, having a client meeting space is vital to independent lawyers, programmers, writers, and others without traditional offices. For business owners, that means providing strong Internet service and adequate electrical outlets.
While many small businesses offer consumer-grade Wi-Fi similar to what people have at home, enterprise-level service can be the better bet for handling a wealth of devices that need higher bandwidth, speed, and reliability. Consider making a small investment in enterprise-level Wi-Fi, and reassess how many outlets the location needs to keep laptops charged.
Encourage customers to make decisions using online reviews.
When it’s time to choose between brands or justify a higher price tag, online reviews can seal the sale. With storewide Wi-Fi, customers are more likely to linger longer, make sounder decisions, and stay satisfied with their purchases.
And how many marketing efforts can top customers tweeting about the store, sending “checking in” notices to Facebook, or posting product pictures to Instagram?
Make Wi-Fi part of the branding and loyalty efforts.
Free Wi-Fi offers unique opportunities to get the word out. Using a custom Wi-Fi network name, such as “Tip-Top Laundry Free Wi-Fi,” helps publicize the brand and brings customers in. Many people filter businesses based on free Wi-Fi, and head to the ones with the services they need. A Wi-Fi guest portal also provides a way to advertise offers when customers log into the network.
With laptop-wielding freelancers growing in numbers and smartphones everywhere, few businesses can afford to limit online access when customers enter their doors. With a little thought and some technical assistance from the digital natives among the staff, anyone can implement a smart Wi-Fi plan that enhances customer numbers, loyalty, sales, branding, and more.[image: Man with laptop, Le Petit Coin by Lucy Fisher on flickr]
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