People in Faraday Cages shouldn’t throw stones

Shoppers tend to ignore the technology provided by retailers. Instead, customers prefer to use their own devices in stores and savvy brands will do all they can to help. So concluded Chrid Johnston, customer insights manager at Schuh (a mid-market, full price, footwear retailer) in a presentation to last week’s Purple Wifi event.

This insight is based on experience. Schuh had installed a network of iPad screens which could be used to check stock and to make online orders for home delivery. Staff found them useful but customers walked right past. Schuh made them bigger (see below) but customers still wouldn’t touch them.

Giant screen at Schuh

The strategy is now to encourage customers to use their own mobile devices through provision of free Wi-fi. Shops, particularly those localed in malls, are frequently built with steel frames. These form Faraday Cages. Mobile signals, particularly the 4G networks that carry most data, struggle to penetrate very far from the front door.

Schuh customers love mobile. Mobile sales are growing strongly and accounts for 46% of visits to the Schuh website, up 10% points in just the last twelve months. Schuh has upgraded its instore Wifi with Purple Wifi, this allows it to access a greater range of analytics and offer customers and easier login process via social sign-on. The social sign-on part is interesting as it can provide a wealth of demographic data as you can see from this (remarkably balanced) Channel 4 News clip.

Paradoxically, Chrid did mention that social login was much less popular at Schuh than she’d been expecting.  Why is Schuh keen to provide free Wifi?

Showrooming. 85% of Schuh merchandise is branded and its customers often use their phones to showroom competitors’ pricing. It’s better they do this while remaining in the Schuh store than stepping outside to get a better cellular signal.

Self-service: Schuh is a service brand but there are some customers who prefer to self serve to check product or stock information.

Multi-channel: cross-channel orders are becoming very significant. Schuh took 100K “check and reserve” orders last year with 48% conversion. Wifi can help to increase this rate. “Buyer collect” is also important, accounting for 11% of all onine purchases.

Discounts: knowledgeable shoppers are checking social and affiliate networks for deals. Having them online when they are in the store ensures everyone gets what they are entitled to.

Social: Wifi encourages shoppers to share photos and ideas about shoes with friends and family, primarily via ShapChat and Whatsapp.

Reluctant co-shopper: Wifi can keep bored husbands and kids entertained. After login, shoppers are directed to, a Schuh site that offers quick stock checking. This has been well received as it offers an instant and useful service.

Post authentication URL redirect at Schuh.
Post authentication URL redirect at Schuh.

I like this implementation. It’s been kept simple and Schuh has resisted the temptation to over-market. Too many advocates of in-store Wifi and associated technologies such as iBeacons are encouraging site owners to use these platforms to proactively push messages to customers. Yet few, if any, retailers have enough customer insight to be able to send shoppers a time-sensitive, location-aware, contextualised and relevant communication. Spam would be inevitable and lazy marketers could kill the whole category; just as they have done for email. Chrid recognised this. So did Lee Smith from Harvey Nichols who spoke afterwards.

Shrewd retailers will put the client in control and use the technology reactively to give quicker and more accurate information when they signal that they want it.


2 thoughts on “People in Faraday Cages shouldn’t throw stones”

  1. I was totally with you, until I got to the words “after login”. Personally I never use so-called free Wifi in shops in Europe because login is too annoying if I only have a few minutes anyway.

    It’s much better in places like Vietnam, where businesses save money and provide a better experience by installing standard domestic Wifi kit with the password turned off.

    1. That would be a simpler customer experience but I think shoppers do realise that you don’t get ought for nought. They’re happy to trade some personal info for a free Internet connection. Even if retailers don’t ask for any personal info, their lawyers advice that shoppers should be asked confirm agreement to a terms of use policy. This protects the retailer in the event of mis-use.

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