Supermarket chain Tesco is testing free in-store Wi-Fi in four of its stores, with plans to roll out across the UK
Tesco is set to become the first British supermarket chain to offer customers a free Wi-Fi Internet service inside its stores.
The company is currently piloting the scheme in four outlets around the UK. Tesco’s chief information officer Mike McNamara said that if the trials prove successful, the technology will be rolled out across the company’s 2,700 stores, adding to the free Wi-Fi available from other sources.
Read reviews as you shop
Tesco believes that in-store Wi-Fi will offer customers a richer shopping experience [ie: it will make them buy more – Editor], allowing them to compare prices and read product reviews as they shop. The company hopes the move will help to reinvigorate its domestic business.
“You can stand Canute-like and pretend nothing is happening … or you can say it’s happening, and I am going to help it happen,” McNamara told the Financial Times. “My guess is it will go to all stores.”
Much of the required infrastructure is already in place, as Tesco already uses Wi-Fi in its own operations. However, the company warned that if customers “sit there streaming video forever”, it may have to switch off the service.
Wi-Fi is already provided in a number of food and drink chains, such as Starbucks and McDonalds, allowing customers to surf the net over a cup of coffee or a hamburger. Some analysts are now predicting that retailers will be next in line.
As well as allowing customers to surf the web, Wi-Fi can also be used to provide indoor navigation services, using Wi-Fi triangulation. Tesco already offers an iPhone application that can locate any grocery product on any shelf, allowing customers to “satnav” their way around the store.
The company installed a prototype “satnav” system at the Tesco Extra in Romford earlier this year, but warned that it would not be rolled out to customers in general for a while. “We have to think about how useful it’s going to be,” said Nick Lansley, head of R&D for Tesco.com, in a blog post. “It would be awful if we did all this work but few customers really used it.”
While indoor location-based services can be useful for the consumer, it can also enable retail chains to gather intelligence on how consumers shop. For example, they could track how customers move around a store and place their products accordingly.
Public Wi-Fi hotspots
Consumers are becoming increasingly used to accessing the Internet over public Wi-Fi. Both BT and Virgin Media offer a network of public Wi-Fi hotspots in city centres across the UK, offering data transfer speeds of up to 8Mbps and up to 5Mbps respectively. Providers often allow free access for specific users – for instance BT offered free access to iPad users.
Many people are still waiting to see how the government’s Digital Economy Act will impact on provision of Wi-Fi hotspots. Under the terms of the Act, all Wi-Fi hotspots have been declared “public communications services”, which means the owner of the free Wi-Fi hotspot will be held responsible for any misuse of the connection.
Meanwhile, small businesses and entrepreneurs in the US who offer Internet access to their customers are being urged to properly secure it, to avoid allegations of online piracy.