By Gary Drenik

From scanning QR codes to checking menus, accessing customer loyalty coupons on apps, and scanning reviews online, smartphones are now a vital tool for consumers. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey, 37% of Americans use their smartphone to scan a QR code, 27% use their phone to redeem coupons while at checkout, and 24% use their phone to pay for in-store transactions. Not only are these smartphone use cases enhancing the customer experience, but they are also integral to helping retailers and restaurateurs provide a quick and easy checkout process, reduce wait times, and enhance overall efficiency.

In this retail and restaurant environment, connectivity becomes a key issue, said Stephen Kowal, Chief Commercial Officer at Nextivity – a provider of intelligent cellular coverage solutions. While Wi-Fi is great at many things, when it comes to delivering the best mobile experiences in-store or in a restaurant, businesses need to look at alternative coverage solutions.

The unstoppable rise of phygital experiences

“A few years ago, it was fashionable to predict the end of brick-and-mortar stores. The internet was thought to out-compete stores both in terms of cost and convenience, and it was only a matter of time before the shutters came down on malls and stores forever,” explained Kowal. “The sentiment was the same for restaurants – why travel out for a meal when a few swipes of an app can bring the meal to you? However, physical stores and restaurants have proved much more resilient.”

Around 63% of Americans do most of their shopping at physical retail outlets, while Americans are spending more than ever on eating out. Yet, the way they shop and dine is changing. The boundary between physical and digital channels is blurring, and many consumers choose to use both at the same time.

The rise of so-called phygital experiences is everywhere to see. Mobile payments at the point of sale are now commonplace (53% of Americans now use digital wallets more frequently than traditional payment methods). Stores and restaurants increasingly use branded apps to anchor their customer loyalty programs, including enabling mobile couponing and ordering. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics survey, 15% of Gen-Z Americans eat at that fast-food restaurant most often due to access to mobile app ordering – an increased preference when compared to Millennials (13%) and Gen-X (11%).

With the rise of these mobile services and countless others, adequate connectivity in stores and restaurants is imperative. Patchy connectivity will leave customers feeling frustrated, increasing the risk of losing them to competitors. This is one challenge that will not be solved by Wi-Fi alone.

Why Can’t We Rely on Wi-Fi?

For Kowal, a key issue with Wi-Fi is around the customer experience: “With Wi-Fi, users have to search for the right network and enter personal information or accept long-winded terms and conditions before being granted access,” he says. “They then need to repeat this process for each store or restaurant they enter. This is not a good customer experience, particularly in large retail and restaurant venues such as malls and food courts.”

Security is also a key issue. As Kowal points out: “More often than not, public Wi-Fi connections are unencrypted, so anyone using the same network can potentially intercept your data. In stores and restaurants, this will include personal information such as passwords, emails, and credit card numbers.”

The security concerns of public Wi-Fi are well known. Indeed, just 23% of people believe public Wi-Fi to be safe. “This perception is a problem in itself,” says Kowal. “It means that consumers may be put off using public Wi-Fi at your store or restaurant, even if you have put in place encryption and tied down the security. This results in you losing out on providing an enhanced customer experience through loyalty apps.”

Boosting cellular coverage to plug connectivity gaps

One alternative solution to the Wi-Fi connectivity challenge is to use cellular signal boosters, devices that harness outdoor cellular networks to bring robust and reliable connectivity into the building.

The choice of a signal booster is key. Legacy distributed antenna systems (DAS) are not suitable for retail or restaurant environments. This is because they primarily address the issue of capacity rather than coverage (so, for example, they would be great for ensuring that a sports stadium can support large numbers of users concurrently). Legacy DAS can also be costly and time-consuming to set up, as they require getting approval from carriers, which can take many months to secure.

“Newer Active DAS Hybrid solutions address these challenges. Active DAS Hybrid technology provides reliable cellular coverage by bringing strong cellular signals from outside the building indoors,” explains Kowal. “They also cost less than legacy solutions and are much faster to set up since they do not require extensive testing and implementation processes. By effectively amplifying cellular signals, they ensure seamless cellular connectivity and enhance the overall customer experience in buildings.”

According to Kowal, cellular signal boosters should be seen as a foundational element of phygital experiences. “These boosters represent an important piece of the puzzle in overcoming the connectivity challenges faced by retailers, restaurants, and their customers, ultimately contributing to the successful digital transformation of the industry,” he says.

Mobile-based phygital experiences are only going to become more common in the years ahead as retailers and restaurants look to streamline their operations, reduce costs, and meet customer demand for richer experiences. Businesses that focus on ensuring reliable network coverage will be best placed to realize the opportunities that come with the phygital revolution including higher sales and sticker customers.

Feature Image Credit: ADOBESTOCK_672007925

By Gary Drenik

I cover consumer-centric insights and analytics that provide executives with solutions needed to drive strategy. I am the CEO of Prosper Business Development where, for more than 20 years, we have provided market leadership and developed contemporary solutions to help Fortune 500 companies navigate change that impacts their business. I got my start in the radio industry.

Sourced from Forbes

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