Free Customer Wi-Fi Still the Exception to the Rule

Telephones have long been more than just a means of communication. Comparing items by QR code, collecting discount points by app or reserving goods on the way to work: modern customers are making good use of the smartphone, in particular as a digital shopping aid.

Any customer forced to resort to his own data tariff and slow connection speeds can have a hard time, especially when architectural barriers to reception, in shopping-centre basements, for instance, make surfing the mobile net a very trying experience. Over-the-counter businesses need to provide a great deal more than a quality ambience in which to shop. Digitisation can actually provide some positive benefits with services such as free mobile Internet, provided that there is good wi-fi coverage in store, along the street or in the shopping centre. Yet in this respect many cities in Germany still have quite a lot of catching up to do

Munich Takes the Wi-Fi Test

Although, according to a representative survey by the German digital association Bitcom, almost half (48 %) of consumers over the age of 14 would like public wi-fi hotspots in shops and a third check the availability of goods via smartphone, in many retail locations the wi-fi coverage is either non-existent or very poor. BBE Handelsberatung, with the help of digital natives, young online-aficionados, has proved this now for the first time in a survey of Munich. They tested the wi-fi quality at a total of eleven sites, including both the biggest shopping centres as well as pedestrian zones, for example Marienplatz in the city centre, or in the Rotkreuzplatz district centre. Königsplatz, where there are no retailers, served as a cross-check. The testers awarded star points in their assessment; from zero stars for no wi-fi service at all up to five stars for good coverage with speedy login. The results were chequered. Only four out of the eleven tested locations have good public wi-fi access. However, even there it is not possible to browse the Internet without logging in manually and tiresome advertising popups. Four other hotspots do offer wi-fi, but only with slow and patchy coverage. Three of the locations tested have no wi-fi access at all.

Everyone Doing Their Own Thing

Munich is not alone with this problem. Cases such as this are to be found everywhere. Both chain and non-chain retailers often only have very inconsistent coverage “islands” – each store operates its own wi-fi network. Access to free Internet ends a few metres away from the shop door. This means that shoppers have to constantly log in and out with every shop they visit. Retailers however, as well as municipal authorities, are under intense pressure to take action. A joint concept is required, to allow greater area coverage, for example over the entire pedestrian zone. Paid-for technical solutions for this have existed for a long time. Everyone benefits in the end. After all, a neighbour’s high footfall will often also bring new visitors to your own shop. Municipal authorities themselves have room for improvement, in particular the smaller ones. If they do not want to sacrifice over-the-counter retailing in city centres and pedestrian malls to e-commerce, they will have to engage in more intensive dialogue with individual local retailers.

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Lars Jähnichen

Tel: +49 89 55118-151
E-Mail: jaehnichen.iph@bbe.de