21/01/2014 - 13:08

WiFi cost an opportunity to profit

21/01/2014 - 13:08

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Mobile technology is providing businesses with an inexpensive but significant marketing tool, but many fail to recognise it.

WiFi cost an opportunity to profit
SHARE THE NEWS: Reliable and fast access to the internet can help attract customers, who will then share their experience online. Cheryl and Gary Zhao at G2 Cafe. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Mobile technology is providing businesses with an inexpensive but significant marketing tool, but many fail to recognise it.

A few weeks ago, while on holiday overseas, I was sitting in a restaurant becoming slightly annoyed at the slowness of the WiFi (or in some cases unavailability of WiFi) and wondering why it was bothering me. I’m on holiday, who needs the internet?

And then it struck me – a business opportunity was being missed.

At those locations where there was reliable and fast WiFi, both my wife and I logged on, took photos and shared them on our various social media sites. We looked at what others had posted, read tips about the place and what it had to offer.

In the process, we were busy promoting wherever we were to our networks and perhaps to many others whom we would never meet but who might read our postings later. One of our friends asked about the hotel we were in and plans to visit later this year. Bingo. 

The power of this is not to be underestimated.

It’s important to note that people use social media to ‘showcase their lives’ (telling others what they are up to, where they are and how great it is). Also, people tend to believe personal recommendations more than advertisements.

And business owners need to be aware that customers think more favourably of places that provide services such as free WiFi.

Put these factors together and you can build up a case for providing free WiFi as a service to your clients, the cost of which has fallen dramatically over the past few years. If you get the right plan, the extra cost could be inconsequential to the extra promotion, goodwill and repeat business that results.

For us consumers, there are even apps available to help find an establishment that provides free WiFi.

Back in Perth after the holiday, I was sitting in a local Northbridge café, G2, which happens to provide free WiFi. I started chatting with husband and wife owners, Gary and Cheryl Zhao. Why do they provide free WiFi, and does it make good business sense for them?

“We decided to offer free WiFi when we set up last year,” Mr Zhao said.

“We noticed how everyone around here has smartphones, and they pretty much expected free WiFi, and certainly liked the idea.”

Interestingly, when they ran another establishment in Applecross, they had not bothered providing it.

“It was an older audience, so it had not seemed like a priority,” Mrs Zhao said.

At G2, however, the Zhaos said the right WiFi plan had removed any concerns that some customers might abuse the service

“We have certainly noticed people using the WiFi, staying longer, and returning because of the convenience,” Mrs Zhao said.

“People have downloaded movies, skype called with friends overseas. We have an unlimited download plan, so that’s fine with us. Our clients like it, so we want to provide it.”

The Zhaos have also noticed clientele posting images of their coffees on Instagram, and sharing details of their meal with friends on Facebook. They are constantly asked to help take photos, and are happy to oblige.

A quick check suggested that about half of the Zhaos’ competitors and other nearby establishments also offered free WiFi, but it seems that percentage falls significantly across the broader metropolitan area.

The City of Perth launched free WiFi in selected areas at the end of last year, as a drawcard into the city.

The downside many businesses would cite as a reason against offering WiFi is that it encourages customers to behave as little more than seat warmers – ordering a single coffee but staying for an hour or more just to use the free internet.

The upside, however, is that same person could be promoting your service to a whole legion of people who would otherwise have never heard of you or your business.

One coffee shop in London is experimenting with a ‘pay-per-minute’ rate (the coffee and food are free). Ziberblat (a Russian word for ‘clock face’) provides cafe goers with a clock on their table to track the time.

In the US, some bars in New York allow the ‘Foursquare mayor’ to drink for free. These places are packed because everyone wants to check in on Foursquare and become the mayor (only one person can be mayor at any one time – the person who has checked in most often). The result is more business.

From a business perspective it makes sense to gain maximum exposure, and free WiFi is one way to achieve that.

Perhaps allowing your clientele to showcase their cup of coffee, latest book, wonderful meal, great hotel room, fun night out or whatever to whomever they want is an idea worth pursuing.

Encourage your clients to spread the news about you. Give them free WiFi and let it all happen naturally.

Charlie Gunningham is an internet entrepreneur and general manager of digital at Business News
Twitter: @chazgunningham 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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