With its purchase of Whole Foods, Amazon is certain to leverage its innovation engine, data-driven decision-making, and customer obsession to revolutionize brick-and-mortar retail.

And while traditional retailers have been working to redefine the role of physical stores in the face of online competition, they now face a more urgent, existential question: Can retailers learn to leverage technology faster than a technology powerhouse can learn retail?

There is an enormous opportunity for technology-driven business improvements within the brick-and-mortar market. These include combining rich offline customer insights with online customer information, and improving customer experiences to increase loyalty and drive sales. Leveraging new technology to better understand customer profiles and shopping habits, predict customer behavior, optimize store operations and delight in-store shoppers will ultimately boost a retailer’s bottom line.

Start with WiFi

A core technology that is often overlooked in the digital transformation of retail is WiFi. One head-scratcher is the number of US retailers that have WiFi in their stores, but fail to turn to it for customer insight and engagement. In fact, a Retail TouchPoints survey found that most US retailers (63%) provide WiFi to visitors, but only an handful leverage it to improve their business. WiFi, coupled with a personalized experience platform – like Volare from Cloud4Wi – enables physical stores to be run more efficiently and provides a more compelling experience for shoppers.

Shoppers naturally access in-store WiFi to check social media, read product reviews, or compare prices. A retailer can guide visitors to register on their welcome portal – using email or by social media – which serves as a digital front door. The WiFi sign-in is the physical store equivalent of placing a cookie on a website. On subsequent visits to any store worldwide, shoppers automatically connect to the WiFi, presenting the retailer with a broad range of insight and engagement opportunities. An in-store personalized experience platform provides five powerful functions critical to the success of today’s retailers:

  • Manages the digital front door on shoppers’ mobile devices,
  • Digitally onboards shoppers for an enhanced CRM,
  • Collects unique customer insights for offline attribution,
  • Facilitates in-store personalized experiences, and
  • Integrates with existing software, whether mobile app and/or IT infrastructure, like business intelligence tools or data management platforms.

Prada sets the trend

The Prada Group is a compelling example of a forward-looking retailer leveraging guest Wi-Fi across their 500 stores worldwide. Prada’s implementation of Volare has facilitated easy Internet access and greater social media sharing for their shoppers. In addition, The Prada Group is collecting insight about individual customer behavior, and new shopper information is added to their CRM on a daily basis. Enhanced analytics are being used to influence decisions, such as when and where to allocate merchandise and staff.

The Prada Group now has the foundation to build a more comprehensive view of customers and pursue full personalization of the in-store customer experience using both digital and human touch. Plans include building an in-store digital catalog, sending personalized triggered messages to loyal customers, and notifying sales assistants upon entry of a returning shopper.

Time to “Go”

While Amazon’s specific plans are unclear, the Amazon Go store provides a glimpse into a retail shopping experience possible in the new era. What is clear is that the timeline to unified commerce for brick and mortar retailers has shrunk.

Fortunately, WiFi is already in stores and platforms like Volare are proven. An enormous benefit of a cloud-based personalized experience platform is its simple, cost-effective deployment over any existing WiFi infrastructure. For forward-thinking brick and mortar retailers that follow this path, it will be easy to rip an innovation page from the Amazon playbook.