Tim Horton's adds Wi-Fi, and other retailers will surely follow

7/5/2012

In another sign that all retailers may soon need to offer their customers free Wi-Fi service, Tim Horton’s this morning announced that it is putting high-speed wireless access into 2,000 of it stores across Canada.

By this September, nine of every 10 Tim Hortons countrywide will have Wi-Fi.

"It's all about convenience and making life easier for our guests," Roland Walton, chief operations officer at Tim Hortons, said.

Though Walton didn’t say it, adding Wi-Fi encourages customers to linger longer and therefore purchase more items as they check email, Facebook pages or browse the Internet for free.

When U.S.-based Panera Bread added free Wi-Fi eight years ago, it experienced an immediate 15 per cent jump in sales.

Several grocers have installed Wi-Fi in the past year. A new Fortino’s store in Burlington, Ont., that has an extensive HMR and eat-in section, has the service to customers.

And last year, Tesco in the UK began a four-store test. The big idea: free Wi-Fi would allow smartphone and iPad-wielding customers to compare prices and read product reviews deep in the aisles as they shopped.

While Wi-Fi may benefit retailers, it can also present problems.

At Panera Bread, for example, so many people are heading to its stores to access Wi-Fi that the system is getting clogged and service is often slow.

"With mobile carriers cracking down on data plans, more and more people say, 'I'll go to Panera for free Wi-Fi.' How do we make sure we have capacity?" Panera's vice president of technology, Blaine Hurst, surmised in an interview with USA Today earlier this year.

Regardless of the hiccups, consumers are increasingly expecting retailers to offer free Wi-Fi. That's especially true for stores that serve food.

“The proliferation of smartphones has led to an explosion in mobile Internet use, which could make free Wi-Fi as important to restaurants as air conditioning or self-serve drink machines—amenities which may or may not lure customers, but which surely keep them from going elsewhere,” the American magazine Franchise Times wrote in an article this year.

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