During the pandemic, it seemed as if shopping had changed forever. With stay-at-home orders and lockdowns across the U.S., consumers had no choice but to shop online. Today, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is largely behind us, and in-store shopping is very much back.
According to one survey, 85 percent of retail sales in 2023 are happening in physical stores. However, this type of shopping is now augmented by digital apps. People use their smartphones in stores to check product reviews, compare prices, ask for friends’ opinions, and much more. It’s estimated that 57 percent of smartphone owners use retailer apps while shopping in stores and that 75 percent of shoppers are more likely to engage with loyalty programs when they're accessible from a smartphone.
Retailers, meanwhile, are leveraging digital technologies to ensure the best possible customer experience. From mobile couponing to tap-to-pay, modern stores are blending the digital and physical realms to deliver the highest levels of service.
In this world, connectivity is everything. Inadequate cellular coverage affects the performance of digital applications and can hold retailers back. Where public cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity is limited or poorly performing, retailers will need to go the extra mile. That means installing a cellular coverage solution that boosts cellular signals indoors, enabling seamless connectivity and unlocking the full benefits of digital.
Why is Wi-Fi coverage insufficient? Given that most retailers today use Wi-Fi to connect to broadband networks, this is a pertinent question.
For all the strengths of Wi-Fi, there’s no escaping the fact that it offers a poor user experience. Shoppers must first ask for the Wi-Fi name and password before searching for the network. They must then enter in the password and, in some cases, additional personal information, as well as agree to terms and conditions. And if they visit multiple stores, this process has to be repeated over and over.
Cellular is much easier to connect to. Shoppers simply pick up their smartphones and go.
Additionally, cellular is more reliable and secure than Wi-Fi and comes with fewer signal interruptions and less interference — due to the billions of dollars invested by carriers to deliver uninterrupted service. There are issues when the strong cellular signal from outside gets blocked by buildings, mountains, trees, or other factors and can’t penetrate inside a store, causing poor in-building coverage. That’s when a cellular coverage solution — such as a cellular signal booster — comes into play. Installing one of these systems alongside Wi-Fi enables retailers to provide reliable calling and internet access throughout the store on a secure network that customers trust. This helps ensure digital applications perform well and provides the best possible shopping or dining experience.
Implementing Cellular Connectivity Tools
How should retailers implement a cellular coverage solution? The first step is to partner with either a system integrator, network advisor, or low-voltage cabling installer. These partners can recommend the best in-building solution to meet the retailer’s requirements.
For instance, in most stores, the main issue will be around ensuring adequate cell coverage (i.e., boosting signal strength) rather than capacity (i.e., solving connectivity issues resulting from a large volume of devices). Capacity may be an issue in large malls, but in this case, responsibility for capacity normally falls on the mall operator and its partners.
The best way to solve for coverage in most buildings, such as retail stores, is through the use of a signal booster or an Active DAS (distributed antenna system) Hybrid solution, both of which are easy to get up and running and improve connectivity in as little as a few hours. Unlike its less affordable legacy DAS counterpart which solves capacity issues, Active DAS Hybrids ensure that signals from public networks extend right into the retailer’s building and perform optimally. For “small box” stores, convenience stores, or quick-serve restaurants, smart signal boosters are great options as they offer performance that traditional wideband repeaters can’t match.
With coverage guaranteed, mobile apps and connected devices can function at their best. As a result, retailers will be able to modernize their equipment, streamline operations, and optimize costs — all while ensuring the best customer experience. By overcoming the infrastructure hurdle, retailers will be able to quickly tap into the full promise of the digital economy and drive growth.
Connecting for Success
As we begin a new year, there’s no better time to ensure that in-store connectivity is as good as it can be to deliver the convenient, fast and rich experience that shoppers demand. This means being able to offer robust in-building connectivity so that retailers’ connected systems perform optimally and shoppers can seamlessly interact with their retail apps, call for recommendations, and use social media. Stores that complement Wi-Fi with cellular signal boosters will put themselves in the best possible position to delight their customers and secure long-term growth.
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Stephen Kowal is Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of Nextivity. Stephen is a technology industry veteran who has held strategic roles in sales, channel, and global accounts for nearly 25 years. As CCO at Nextivity, Stephen will be responsible for the company’s customer and partner facing teams, specifically those focused on sales, business development, marketing, product management, customer service, and order management.
Most recently, Stephen was at CommScope where he held progressively senior leadership roles during his 22-year tenure with the company. As the company’s Senior Vice President of enterprise sales, he led a team of more than 1,000 enterprise sales professionals, driving over $2B in revenue across the company’s line of Wi-Fi, DAS, fiber, and copper solutions used in enterprise, telecommunications, cable television, and residential broadband networks. While in the role of Senior Vice President of CommScope’s global partner organization, Stephen was responsible for developing the company’s global partner strategy and leading the team of 100 channel professionals who recruited, developed, and supported a worldwide partner network of 5,000 distributors, integrators, and installation partners.