Merchant talkback: What’s the best wifi policy for your coffee shop?

August 22, 2018

“What’s the WIFI password?” is possibly the number one question coffee shop owners have to answer every day. As the freelance and remote work community continues to grow, coffee shops have become the de facto office for professionals, students, and everyone in between.

Many coffee shops find establishing an internet use policy is a bit tricky. Is free WIFI a boon or a curse? While offering an internet connection may increase foot traffic, what happens if your foot traffic never leaves?

Your internet access impacts customer satisfaction, revenue, and customer loyalty. With a little research, we found that every coffee shop treats internet access differently. An informal poll of Clover merchants found that the majority of coffee shop owners believe in offering free WIFI with a password.

Let’s start with the basic premise: does your coffee shop need to offer WIFI at all? Clover asked our merchants, and the results were mixed. It seems that a cafe’s internet-use policy is contingent on a number of factors.

According to one merchant, free WIFI can help fill a coffee shop during the daily service lulls. “Laptop customers can make the coffee shop seem busy and full during normally slow times. It’s depressing to go into a shop that’s dead.”

Another coffee shop owner in Evanston, IL agreed: size matters. “I have a larger coffee shop so I think having people here, if only on their laptops, makes the place look and feel busy so people think it must be good. For me, it enhances our business.”

Other coffee shop owners are wary of offering free WIFI, arguing that in some ways this dilutes their brand (and no one wants weak coffee!). “Often, people who are [at a coffee shop] to use laptops take over four seats or sofas. This is a business, not a free service…[Laptop customers] only buy one thing because they don’t want to leave their tech unattended.”

It can be frustrating (and bad for your bottom line) if WIFI vultures take up your seating without making an extra purchase or two throughout the day. But, some coffee shop owners have found it doesn’t always matter if you offer WIFI: some customers are smart enough to get it anyway, either through a hotspot on their phones or neighboring business. Said one business owner, “Coffee shops are a proxy for the urban environment of the future. The NOMA district of D.C. just spent $300,000 putting in free WIFI. It’s part of the deal when you assume the role of ‘coffee shop’ for now.”

If you do decide to offer WIFI, how should a customer be able to access internet service? There are a few different options ranging from completely open (no password necessary) to limiting user access to a specific amount of time before cutting off or charging.

Clover’s merchants seem to gravitate toward the latter, with the majority of those polled restricting access in their shop by either requiring a periodic access code made available with purchase or by charging. Some merchants have begun to ask for customers to trade personal data for WIFI: by asking for an email address or a like on Facebook, coffee shops can extend their marketing outreach in powerful ways.

If you are interested in revisiting your WIFI policy, start by checking out some of these smart tips from the Clover blog and talking to your customers. Coffee shops are all about community, so it’s smart to align your policies with the opinion of those who make that community possible.

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