For the life of me I can’t figure out why more businesses still don’t see the value of offering free wifi internet connectivity to customers. I wrote about this once before but I think it deserves more attention. While, using Free Wifi hasn’t been proven to be a conclusive way to increase business, the cost of offering it is so minimal that it seems inevitable that places would offer it.
Let’s look at exactly who you potentially turn away from your establishment by not offering WiFi:
- Business men and women
- Young Professionals
- Students of all ages
- The Casual User (email, chatting, google)
Today in Lakewood (just outside of Denver) I drove around for an hour looking for places where I could sit and work for a few hours while grabbing a bite to eat. Here’s a list of the places that I found Lakewood that offered WiFi:
- Whole Foods Market
- Moosehill Cantina
- Village Roaster
- Atlanta Bread Co.
- The Press Coffee Company at Belmar
- Peaberry Coffee
- Chad’s Union Street Cafe
- Baker Street Pub & Grill
- Yard House Rest.
- Belmar Library
- Lakewood Library
- Volkswagen of Lakewood
- Stevinson Lexus of Lakewood
What’s ridiculous about this list is two of these are public libraries, two are car dealerships while four are huge mega-franchise corporate entities. The Village Roaster and the Atlanta Bread Co. are also franchises albeit a smaller level than McDonald’s and WholeFoods. That leaves only about six independent local restaurants that have realized that WiFi is an added value that customers appreciate an thus, the businesses that could benefit from it the most have failed to adopt it. Subsequently, the big corporations that tend to swallow up smaller competitors are made stronger. For instance, I’m writing this from Starbucks instead of the local coffeshop New York Bagels.
New York Bagels, which I stopped at for breakfast this morning, looked like exactly the type of place that would benefit from offering WiFi. It had an intimate atmosphere, good food, coffeeshop-style decor and seemed to draw much of the business class from the surrounding at breakfast and lunch time. I can only imagine how much more they would draw if people knew they could go there and still get work done. Unfortunately, the owner told me that he was “still debating” on whether or not to offer WiFi.
Seriously? What’s left to debate?
You aren’t going to chase away customers for offering them more. For the minimal investment of $50 to $100 dollars a month you can serve password-protected WiFi that might actually make you money in the long run:
- Simply offering WiFi (even if you password protect it so only paying customers can use it) you’ll bring in new customers who wouldn’t solicit your business otherwise.
- If you offer free wifi that is maybe ad supported, you can make money by selling that ad space to local businesses. Those business benefit the most because you’ve qualified customers for them in advance by proving they are physically located in the area, have money to spend and are tech savvy enough to get online and find said advertisements. It’s a variation of the impressionistic advertising that advertisers have used for decades.
One argument against offering Wifi is that it causes people to come to your establishment and sit for hours without buying anything. Or that having a bunch of gadgets around somehow ruins the atmosphere of small community oriented businesses. This is the debate that Javaology in Atlanta used for the longest time. These business consider the crosstalk and chatter part of their draw.
I don’t buy these arguments at all. For the customer who sits for hours without buying anything, establish some sort of minimum purchase that they would need to make before they are even given access to your connection. While the connection is still free, you’re forcing them to at least spend money on something else in shop so that you aren’t losing money on them. You might also want to consider offering paid monthly memberships to customers who don’t want to bother with those frequent small purchases. They’ll more than likely be happy to pay a premium up front for unlimited access. Changing the password frequently in this scenario will further protect you from freeloaders.
For the second argument, the tech customer may indeed effectively reduce the “chatter” of people who come to talk business or about their gardens or whatever people conversate about at coffee shops. However, it’s possible that they’ll increase it. I often frequent coffeshops with friends so that we can work on projects together. In this case I’m talking more than I would be otherwise. That’s playing devil’s advocate though, my real argument is that your customers will decide what type of atmosphere they want to create….not you. Trying to control the actions of your customers is like trying to predict the stock market. There’s a science to coming close, but you’ll never succeed 100%.
In conclusion, from my vantage point, there’s few reasons left NOT to offer free Wifi, especially if you’re located in a smaller area like Lakewood, Colorado that isn’t so progressive when it comes to adopting new technology.