How much does free cost you? WiFi for customers?

(29 /10 /2014)

WiFi has to be one of the most used technologies in society today and like most people, I would be lost without it.  It’s in my home, certainly in my office and these days, it’s offered as a free service in almost every café I walk into.  I know this because my smart phone asks me if I want to connect to the local free WiFi service – how convenient is that?  I can surf the Net, check messages, send an email, keep across the news, even write a blog all while sipping my coffee and tucking into my favourite piece of cake.  But is free WiFi a good thing?  Does it actually increase business? Or are your seats being used by non-paying customers taking advantage of the free WiFi?

Once upon a time, working in a coffee shop was the domain of bohemian writers and students, but with the ever growing transient work force and more people turning to private consulting, these days cafes are increasingly being used as offices.  Any day of the week, any time of the day, if you walk into a café, you will see any number of business meetings taking place.  And not just brief catch ups or chats, but full-blown presentations with the aid of laptops, tablets and smart phones.  And you can be fairly sure that most of these presentations are taking advantage of the free WiFi offered by these businesses.  The café is certainly alive with activity – the din of patrons talking, staff taking orders, the coffee machine whirring away.  But are these patrons that are filling your seats, using your WiFi, actually spending dollars?  I’m sure they will buy a coffee or two while in store, but while their bums are filling your seats, those walk-bys that might like to spend money in your store, keep on walking if seats aren’t available…and your competitor up the road, benefits instead.

So how do you manage this?  How do you keep your seats full with paying customers rather than patrons that may have been there for an hour but have only spent $4.00 on a latte?  This is one of those problems that doesn’t have a clear answer – perhaps you could put a time limit on the WiFi to discourage lengthy discussions or consider access to WiFi with purchase rather than offering free access.  Another option could be to have a specific WiFi area in store so that only those seats could be filled by potentially low-paying customers, leaving the bulk of seats free for patrons to come and go.  The disadvantage to each of these scenarios however, is the potential that patronage will decline which in turn will affect profits.

Free WiFi – is it good for business? Hard to say but if you want to offer free WiFi to encourage patronage, it will be a balancing act between increased numbers and increased dollars and working out which is more important for the longevity of your business.  In the meantime, you’ll find me at my local café, checking the news, sending an email or two and sipping on a latte…I’ll probably even have a piece of cake!

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