According to a study by Retail Economics, retailers will reach a ‘digital tipping point’ in 2028 when online sales will be worth more than 50% of total retail sales. The report revealed that online growth will be powered by three factors:

  • the changing demographics of the UK adult population
  • the development of faster, cheaper, in-home deliveries
  • fewer bricks-and-mortar stores.

The report says AI and personalised marketing, better delivery options and growing use of social for retail will drive huge changes, with high streets needing to reinvent themselves to meet the challenges.

At Omnisperience we believe the secret to success lies in creating connected experiences that incorporate residential aspects of living in a smart space (smart homes and smart cities), working experiences (smart factories, offices and connected worklife), entertainment and social aspects (coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, sporting venues etc), as well as retail.

BT partners with Purple to launch BT Engagement Service

Given the challenges faced by the high street – with 140,000 jobs lost on the UK high street in 2019 alone – BT has come up with an interesting proposition. Moving beyond simply providing WiFi connectivity, it has combined its offering with technology from Purple WiFi to create what it’s calling the ‘BT Engagement Service’. This service provides high street retailers with the same insights into their customers (such as their name and age, hobbies and interests) currently enjoyed by digital retailers.

Privately-owned Purple, which provides Guest WiFi, Analytics Solutions, Marketing Solutions and, more recently, Wayfinding Technology, signed a multi-year deal with BT in November 2019 to incorporate its products into BT’s WiFi services. Businesses using the combined solution are now able to deliver a simple, social WiFi journey to their customers that also enables them to better understand their needs and behaviour.  This will allow them to deliver far more tailored communications and higher levels of customer engagement.

BT has said that the solution will be particularly targeted at retail, on-trade, F&B and the leisure sectors.

All of this comes close on the heels of Purple’s announcement (December 2019) that former BT CEO Gavin Patterson is joining the firm as a non-executive director. And soon after the Manchester-based company added vital indoor navigation and location-based systems (Wayfinding) that round out its offering for smart spaces via the November 2019 acquisition of LogicJunction.

LogicJunction had spent 10 years building its offering, which is based on WiFi, Bluetooth and the geomagnetic force of the Earth to deliver a sat nav like experience indoors. The technology is set to become increasingly important to help customers navigate through smart cities and smart spaces (such as shopping centres, hospitals, stadiums, airports and supermarkets).

Overcoming consumer reluctance to share data is critical

The one fly in this data-powered retail renaissance is, of course, consumers’ willingness, or otherwise, to share data. The Retail Economics report pointed out that consumers are increasingly concerned about their personal data, with over a quarter of respondents saying they’d taken some action to limit the data shared with companies.  In the 16-24 demographic this rose to over a third.

Gavin Matthews, Head of Retail at the report’s sponsors, Womble Bond Dickinson, commented: “As retailers leverage new technologies to support growth, new risks also emerge. Consumers are increasingly conscious of the need to protect personal data and their privacy in order to reduce the risk of fraud, identity theft and misuse of their data. Real damage can be done to a retailer’s brand and reputation with any data breach and loss of trust can have far reaching consequences for any business and its bottom line.”

Purple’s CEO Gavin Wheeldon notes that the way data is collected using its technology strikes a balance between benefiting the business and the customer. “Our solution not only enables bricks-and-mortar businesses to really understand their customers by collecting demographic data, it also provides an important exchange of value.  The customer is getting access to free WiFi by giving up a bit of data, which is also used to enhance the customer’s experience during their visit. Guests receive hyper-personalised marketing messages in real-time about offers relevant to their current location”.

Wheeldon notes that his company believes in the importance of transparency when it comes to the data being collected as well as how it is being used. “To make our Guest WiFi as transparent as possible, Purple’s Profile Portal offers total control of personal data for the end user, including the ability to adjust their marketing preferences through a secure and easy-to-use dashboard”.

Omnisperience’s view

Omnisperience believes the Purple-powered BT Engagement Service is a good approach, because it delivers easy-to-understand benefits to customers:

  • a clear exchange of value between customer and business
  • choice, control and transparency with regards to data
  • easy sign in
  • personalised experiences.

The tie-up  with BT enables Purple to scale far faster, benefitting from BT’s large WiFi estate in the UK. While Purple has value-adding technology, a strong understanding of the retail space plus retail partnerships that will help BT strengthen its position amongst retailers.

Ben Toner, our WiFi expert, comments: “We’ve seen a number of significant WiFi evolutions in the last year that are ideal for the retail industry. WiFi 6 provides a more consistent performance in high footfall locations – whilst also enabling new low power IoT devices to be connected to the same system. Cisco released their Open Roaming standard to improve the ease and security with which people connect to Wi-Fi. The Canary Wharf Group launched both of these technologies in 2019 claiming that ‘For the real estate industry, next generation connectivity is a critical utility’.

Smart spaces will benefit from these technological overhauls but they are new and come at a cost. BT’s newly-branded ‘WiFi for business’ delivers Guest WiFi which BT claims will get you closer to customers, generate more revenues, and improve both loyalty and return rates. The managed service aspect is good: as it can be hard for a retailer to extract value once the installation is complete.

Let’s not forget that BT are also putting a lot of effort behind their convergence plan – an initiative to reduce their networks down to ‘One Smart Network’ which converges mobile, fixed and WiFi using a single layer of intelligence. My prediction is that BT will be able to offer a smooth retail WiFi journey for their existing customers, as well as offering in-building 4G/5G which works seamlessly with ‘WiFi for business’, while producing value-added insights and analytics to retailers that surpass the analytics revenues generated today”.

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa is the Chief Analyst at Omnisperience and has over 25 years' experience in the telecoms and technology markets. She is an expert on SME and enterprise telecoms, and has considerable vertical market expertise. Her research focus lies in helping B2B telecoms firms become more commercially successful by better understanding and meeting their customers' needs. She is a judge of the GSMA Global Mobile Awards (GloMo's) for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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