Coffee Shop Considerations: The WiFi Debate
At Pollards we try to be more than just wholesale suppliers to our customers. Our staff have a wealth of knowledge in all areas coffee, and we aim to help our clients with any advice and tips we can. The coffee community in general is very open. Often sharing tips to help each other to make the most of great coffee. One of the many topics we frequently discuss with customers is, whether new business owners should supply free WiFi in their cafes or not.
In this blog post we will explore both sides of the WiFi debate, and we can let you decide what is the best fit for your company. Its such a personal decision for your business, that we believe there is no wrong or right answer. Additionally, if you have any suggestions or opinions then please get in touch and we can add it to this post, to help others decide.
Many cafes have welcomed the extra custom they get from the increasingly mobile workforce of the UK, and happily allow them access to unrestricted WiFi. Others have sought to subtly discourage or limit perceived ‘freeloaders’ who can be a drain on the bottom line of profits and ‘hog’ tables.
The opinion on public wifi among coffee shop owners is very mixed. Most business owners see both sides of the argument. Those who ask the question however, are already leaning towards keeping their establishment offline. Let us know what you think!
Lets get into it:
Providing WiFi in your cafe can have many different benefits and disadvantages. In order to address this, lets first look at the negative impacts free WiFi can have on a business. To keep some structure we have created a kind of ‘pro/con list’, so lets start with the cons first:
The first issue with providing WiFi in a cafe, is that it isn’t anything special. There is no WOW factor with WiFi, its not a USP for your company. Its not going to be a surprise for your customers, or even a treat. Most modern customers now expect WiFi everywhere they go, for free. The internet is so popular, that access to the web is now seen as a right, or even a necessity. The working culture in the UK now expects employees to be online and available regardless of the time. Therefore, outside of work we expect to be online everywhere too, in our spare time.
As a customer, if you go into a coffee shop expecting WiFi, only to find that there is none, this instantly reflects as negative and therefore a bad customer experience. It depends on your clientele. But, just because customers expect free WiFi, might not be a good enough reason for you to want to provide it, as a business owner.
WiFi is a very sought after and desirable service, and coffee shops are well known to provide it for free, more often than not. Some people frequent coffee shops simply to buy a cheap drink, or even just ask for a glass of water, to sit and use the WiFi.
People using the WiFi isn’t a problem, that is what its there for! Its OK if the WiFi is used for a quick update of social media, or to check in with a friend. We like to think that these people are relatively harmless. They are the people who seek shelter from the rain, or use your cafe as a quick meeting place for friends.
These freeloaders only become a potential issue when they frequently bring a laptop and set up camp on a four seater table, streaming high definition videos, trailing wires all over, spending as little as possible, in prime business hours. This would mean that there are no seats available for new or loyal paying customers. The problem is; WiFi access should add to the experience of a coffee shop and not define it.
WiFi is undesirable to some
On the other hand, offering WiFi can deter certain customers too. Depending on the clientele you wish to attract, offering WiFi may do more harm than good for your business. Some people seek out vibrant and busy coffee shops where they can chat to strangers and have a feeling of interactive community, away from laptops and phones. If they were to enter a coffee shop full of secluded and quiet laptop hermits, they might take their custom elsewhere. This is a niche market, but it is growing. People like to seek an offline environment. Some cafes have even taken to the extreme of advertising that they are an offline space in a bid to intrigue new customers.
So the answer could be go offline.. right? – wrong. Further to this dilemma, if you do not even offer WiFi, this can upset the people who wish to use it too. Damn. It depends on your target market completely as to whether offering WiFi suits your business and the clientele you target.
WiFi can help to define your business. But it can also damage your reputation, if it proves to be unreliable. If the WiFi is unreliable, your coffee shop will also appear unreliable by association. If the WiFi is slow or breaks down often, then this can lead to a bad overall customer service experience. So the decision is not only whether or not to offer WiFi on the premises, but if the quality can please your customers. This can take so much upkeep and attention, so consider if it is worth it carefully.
Another factor to consider when providing WiFi, is security. A WiFi provided for customers should always be kept separate from the WiFi used by the business. Public internet connections all hold risk of data interception. So its important to keep your personal business information separate in order to add an element of protection for yourself. Most businesses offer two WiFi options, one is generally secured with a separate password reserved for staff and owners. This gives you more security but will also cost extra. So its worth considering this cost.
Onto the good stuff:
Right now, WiFi sounds like more trouble than its worth. But the benefits of providing internet service at your cafe might just change your mind. So here is the Pro part of our ‘pro/con list’. If done well, WiFi can increase profits and boost loyalty, this is how..
Freeloaders, or steady money..
An increase in the ability to work remotely, directly increases demand in cafes. These customers can be an important target market to visit your coffee shop, if you decide to include free WiFi on site. Aside from the rare table hogger, who we spoke about earlier and how they lose you money. Most remote workers are happy to frequent a cafe and sip through many coffees during the day.
It depends how you weigh the situation and how your baristas handle it. Most customers are happy to pay more, for a vibrant environment and an uninterrupted work space. All it may take is some forward thinking, and a gentle prompt or two. This comes down to staff and the attitude taken. These workers could be steady money for your business, loyal and predictable earners. They will sip drinks, sit quietly and possibly even stay for lunch if you provide food too. So don’t be too eager to kick people out or ban laptops, it might be worth your while.
For this to work, we have a few suggestions to help..
1. Consider the cafe layout
Placing plug sockets on a ‘bar style’ counter, instead of by prime larger tables for example. This can make for a more efficient space use, and customers actually appreciate higher tables to place their laptops on. This would encourage remote workers into a smaller area, without the need to confront and ask them. Freeing up prime sofa spaces for groups.
Designing the plug sockets in a safer place such as a counter, will remove chances of trip hazards in the shop and specifically appeal to the customer as a thoughtful gesture for them! win-win.
You can use the opportunity to litter these ‘work space’ areas with promotional leaflets and tempting advertising to encourage purchases. Also consider placing this space closer to the service area, so that customers can easily reorder drinks without leaving their seats. This will increase sales as it won’t interrupt there work, and create a more chatty/informal environment.
If this is done well, it can actually increase sales. People who stay in cafes longer, generally spend more, but not always. At the very least then layout is worth considering.
2. Consider limiting the WiFi itself
If you still find people hogging the WiFi for hours and not making purchases then why not try putting a timer on the WiFi prompting purchases every two hours to reconnect. This will interrupt their work flow and remind them gently that you run a coffee business and not a library. Be careful with this tip though because some people may take offence. Research your target market, competitors and area to see who uses the WiFi and why. If its easier for them to switch to a different cafe, they might.
If you don’t want to limit the time, but want to limit who uses your WiFi then try password protecting the internet. You can print the password onto receipts or keep a card behind the till for paying customers to see. This again, might be risky without researching your local area and its competitors. If you make it too difficult for customers to see the benefits of your cafe, it could loose you business. On the plus side though, this would allow a better connectivity for customers as less people will be using the WiFi. Quality might just sway it.
Another benefit of having a password on your WiFi is that once the customer has used it once, they are more likely to return. It is easier than going elsewhere and asking for a new password. A small incentive for loyalty, but it works.
WiFi undoubtably attracts customers. People search for cosy spots and WiFi access. If you decide to offer WiFi then make sure potential customers know about it. This can be done in several ways:
- Advertise the WiFi within the building and on the street with A boards or window stickers.
- Make sure you are searchable on google maps. This is the main way people find places to go for a drink in a new city. People can narrow the choices down by key features such as WiFi so ensure you don’t miss out!
- Advertise this on your social media platforms, it might encourage people to visit for the first time.
Having WiFi can increase the appearance of full transparency, which is sought after by modern customers. People like to ‘check up’ on where they are buying from. A recent survey from Shopatron found 86% of customers consult their mobile phone before making a purchase. As customers we like traceability, accountability and transparency in the brands we use. Allowing people free access to internet promotes the idea of freedom and openness.
Having WiFi is a key criteria for many online reviewers. Statistically you are more likely to get a 5 out of 5 review if you provide WiFi in your coffee shop.
Offering free Wi-Fi doesn’t just benefit your customers. With you in control of the network connection, you can set your website as the homepage. This ensures all customers are aware of specials, add-ons, and other services offered, without depending on employees to hard sell customers.
If your WiFi ‘homepage’ is set to your business website or social media pages then this would increase your online presence and help with things such as brand interaction. Directing customers to your website, filters traffic to you directly. If it leads directly to your Facebook page, this will encourage ‘likes’, ‘follows’ and reviews. This customer interaction will increase your online social impact and help to get your brand recognised a little more.
Helping you get to know your customers
Providing WiFi also allows you access to data. Depending on your service, you can track what your customers are looking at, gather statistics on the amount of visitors, along with many other helpful insights. If you analyse this data it can help your company. For example if you start to see trends on your WiFi, such as more WiFi connectors on a Tuesday, you can directly sell to those people. It might prompt a promotion on Tuesdays. Or if you see people disconnect at lunch time, this likely indicates they are going elsewhere for lunch, so you could introduce snacks perhaps.
You’ll also be able to see how frequently people come into your shop, and how long they stay. It’s a much more comprehensive and passive way to get to know your customers. Better than loyalty cards for example, and can help turn casual guests into loyal customers.
Uses in advertising
Speaking of promotions, a consideration could be to request an email address in return for access to the WiFi. A small request, but this could enable you to directly advertise to that customer in the future. A quick email asking for a review on their visit, or a newsletter showing new products every once in a while might entice the customer to return and remember the cafe. You can take the opportunity to send them tailored promotions, such as your new ‘Tuesday deal’.
Other advertising methods as mentioned before are things such as Google Maps. But also Facebook promotions, a free biscuit in exchange for a Facebook ‘like’ or running an Instagram competition for the best photograph of your shop. All of these things encourage customer interaction whilst also building an online presence and the aim – customer loyalty.
Providing WiFi on a basic level, helps you to beat the local competition. If you do local research and find most cafes in the area offer WiFi, then join them. Something as simple as providing free WiFi access to your customers will provide you with a significant advantage over competitors who don’t. In the age of smart phones, price and customer service are no longer the only way for your business to differentiate itself from the competition.
Yes, this can be a positive too. It does cater for a niche market. You might align yourself more with the coffee shops who provide board games rather than internet promotions. Relying on word of mouth and a quirky outlook to engage with your loyal customers. There are many businesses that are successful at this, and open about the fact that they do not offer public WiFi. Our advice would be, be up front and make it a gimmick.
If thats to far for you, then don’t be afraid to simply turn the WiFi off for a while! Have an offline hour in peak times. Then turn it back on for the slower lazy afternoons. Having WiFi might just mean that you are flexible. Again, our advice is just to be open about it. Communicate with your customers so they feel involved and not let down. They might love it.
So what is the answer?
In this blog post we have explored both sides of the WiFi debate. But the decision for your company is yours. Such a personal decision for your business, needs to be made by you. There is no wrong or right answer. Hopefully this post has given you food for thought and helped you see both sides of the argument.
If you have any suggestions or opinions then please get in touch and we can add it to this post, to help others decide. Let us know what you decide for you too! We would love to hear from you!
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