Free Wi-Fi has been a marketing tool at restaurant and beverage establishments including McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) and Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX). Now Walmart (NYSE: WMT) has decided the service will help it attract and retain customers.
Wi-Fi, a simple way to distribute broadband, has become an important glue to bond stores to consumers.The Sam’s Club division of the world’s largest retailer will offer free Wi-Fi provided by AT&T (NYSE: T). All Sam’s Clubs will have the service by November. The company said the service will allow its “members greater use of their Wi-Fi enabled smart phones while shopping and enable associates to demo new IPTVs as well as other internet connected devices in real-time. Members may view their favorite web application such as Facebook, Pandora or Vudo on large screen TVs to better understand how it would appear at home.” Put simply, it is a sales tool that costs Sam’s Club very little to offer and may improve traffic to consumer electronics areas of its stores.
Sam’s Club also said hundreds of product reviews will now be accessible “in-club” as well to help members research potential purchases and access samsclub.com. The stores have more than 47 million US members, which means that the opportunity to increase sales is substantial.
The use of free Wi-Fi is likely to expand rapidly to other retailers now that it has been tested successfully by some of the largest companies in the sector. It is highly likely that Target (NYSE: TGT), Costco (NASDAQ: COST), and Home Depot (NYSE: HD) will add the service and that it will spread to traditional store chains like Macy’s (NYSE: M) and supermarkets operators such as Kroger (NYSE: KR). Wi-Fi has become a competitive advantage which means it is likely to get almost universal adoption in the retail sector.
Wi-Fi may end up being one of the great retail marketing tools of the last decade. Who would have thought the internet and portable broadband would have come so far?
Douglas A. McIntyre