Tesco is poised to offer customers a free WiFi internet service in its stores, in what is thought to be a first for a British supermarket.
The move comes as Britain’s biggest retailer seeks to embrace customers’ changing shopping habits, but also reinvigorate its domestic business, under new chief executive Philip Clarke.
Providing WiFi, which enables wireless connectivity to the internet for smartphone and laptop users, means customers will be able to compare prices and read product reviews as they shop.
Mike McNamara, Tesco’s chief information officer, said consumers were already using mobile technology to check that the supermarket’s prices were competitive. “You can stand Canute-like and pretend nothing is happening or you can say it’s happening, and I am going to help it happen,” he said.
Tesco is currently experimenting with the WiFi service in four stores. McNamara said that if this was successful, it could be rolled out quickly elsewhere. “My guess is it will go to all stores,” he said.
McNamara said the service would be free. Much of the investment in infrastructure had already been made, as Tesco uses WiFi in its own operations in stores. However, “if you sit there streaming video forever, we may switch it off,” he added. Tesco could also look to replicate the WiFi service outside the UK.
While several US store groups, including the Sam’s Club warehouse chain, are providing WiFi in stores, Tesco is thought to be the first big UK retailer to do so. Sam’s Club is owned by Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, but serves higher income customers than Walmart-branded superstores, which do not have WiFi.
The size of Tesco’s estate – it has 2,700 stores covering almost 37m square ft – will significantly expand the number of free WiFi hotspots in the UK.
Many are currently in coffee shops, such as Starbucks and fast food restaurants such as McDonalds. But Paul DeBeasi, analyst at Gartner, said retailers could be the next wave of businesses to offer free internet surfing.
Colin Jeffrey, a director at Deloitte, predicted that many customers would expect WiFi as a matter of course within a year: “Its almost taken for granted in coffee shops and hotels now. Retailers are going to have to move quickly to meet the basic expectations of customers.”
For Tesco, another incentive to offer WiFi is its Clubcard loyalty scheme, which is poised to become increasingly digital. A US experiment with the scheme this autumn will see customers receive rewards digitally, rather than through physical vouchers. This approach could then move to China, followed by the UK, where customers can already access their Clubcard accounts online.
Source – Financial Times