Just reading that Skype is to launch a public wifi network in the UK. Unlike the long-promised city-wide, pervasive wifi networks, this one seems to have a strong commercial element to it; at least at first glance.
Skype will be focusing on building out networks in high-streets and shopping centres. Retailers will then fund the network and provide it free of charge to shoppers. The rationale being that wifi has become a value-add for shoppers and that they’ll be able to access special promotions and discounts while in-store.
But it also suggests that shoppers will be able to engage in social media and price comparisons.
Whether retailers will embrace this idea is less clear in my mind.
The web has leveled the playing field for consumers. There was a time when getting the consumer through the door was enough to secure a sale. Today, savvy shoppers can be in-store, scan barcodes with an app and perform instant price comparisons on Price Runner. They can ask their friends for product recommendations through Twitter and Facebook and even check competitive retailers within walking distance on Google Maps.
Will retailers be happy to fund a tool that can potentially cost them a sale by exposing better deals in the vicinity?
Of course it swings both ways and I’m not suggesting that retailers should shun such advancements.
A retailer with a solid reputation will benefit from social recommendations in the same way that a poor one will lose out. If anything, social trends such as this tend to shift an entire industry upwards, improving the overall consumer experience as retailers look to trade in a more open and transparent retail environment.
What worries me most is that Skype’s own messaging is a little hazy. There’s some great stats from Skype’s partner in the deal (wicom) that over 50% of 18-34 year olds would be more likely to buy something from a store there and then, if the store was able to send a discount or voucher to their phone when they entered. However, this implies that the retailer can push messages to the consumer in real-time. Skype’s website doesn’t relay this; instead it suggests that the consumer must be directed to the retailer’s online store presence.
That’s a very different relationship and level of interaction.
Sure, the store is able to collect details as the consumer accesses the service (using their skype ID), but the consumer will have to opt-in for messages, and it’ll require the retailer to react quickly enough to push out a promotion. Send me a promotion after I’ve left the store and it’s not going to suggest competency on the part of the retailer. I also don’t see any way that promotions can be targeted (unless Skype’s sharing some analytics about user preferences with the retailer) so I’m assuming promotions will fall into the generic BOGOF category.
Given the price plans (low cost at around £10 per month) this seems aimed at the smaller stores; the ones who won’t have the infrastructure or CRM systems in place to react in real-time to really leverage the opportunity.
For all of the great ideals, that’s why I have a feeling that this will be limited to cafes simply looking at a cheaper alternative to their ISP’s business packages.