The other day I went clothes shopping at the mall with my 12-year-old son, an experience that’s usually painful for both of us. While he was deciding between “straight leg” and “skinny leg” pants I spent my time looking at the surrounding shops in the mall. Some were smaller, independently-owned stores while others were part of larger retail chains. They’re all selling something which means they all need to protect the data they receive from customer transactions.
While I don’t really understand the need for skinny leg pants, I do know that there are a ton of stores in the malls. The ones that are successful find ways to differentiate themselves from the competition. They also learn how to make doing business easier. The use of wireless is a good example. Free WiFi is a cool thing. I can keep up on email, surf the web and text my wife about my shopping experience right from the store without using up my valuable data plan. As a shopper, I like that.
From the store’s perspective, wireless serves multiple functions. For one, it’s a potential source of customer retention. According to an EarthLink Holdings Corp. study, 27.5 percent of retailers reported increased customer loyalty due to in-store WiFi. Having free WiFi available also makes it easier for customers to get product information and make purchases. In a press release late last year Gap, Inc. said, “Now, you can just take out your smartphone and shop straight from the fitting room, browse customer reviews or just jump online for fun. It’s now easier to access with free customer Wi-Fi.” What’s more, retail businesses that provide free WiFi also see an increase in customer foot traffic, time spent on premises and spending based on a 2014 Devicescape-commissioned survey by iGR. This is all good news for retailers who’ve jumped on the in-store WiFi bandwagon.
Providing free WiFi doesn’t come without some effort however. Service providers are upping the bandwidth available to businesses and WiFi speeds have increased significantly thanks to 802.11ac, both of which make for a better user experience. That’s great, and it means wireless speed is often not an issue any longer. Securing the network from threats still is though. Retailers who don’t deploy a network security solution such as a firewall to protect their WiFi (and wired) network face a number of potential risks including stolen customer and company data, financial loss and damaged reputation. There have been plenty of examples in the news of major retailers who have been experienced each of these. Were they hacked over a WiFi network? Probably not. However it’s a very real possibility. In addition to providing essential protection from viruses, spyware, intrusions and other threats, firewalls enable retailers to separate, or segment, customer internet access from employee network access over the wireless network. This ensures that the retailer’s internal network is safe from any threats customers may have on downloaded onto their personal WiFi devices. At the same time, employees have secure access to internal resources they need.
In the end, after much deliberation my son went with the skinny leg pants. I had a good in-store WiFi experience and the retailer made another sale knowing its network was safe from a wireless attack. The next time you’re at the shopping mall check to see if you can find the store’s wireless access point. Odds are the shop is providing free WiFi to its customers. If you’re a retailer looking for information on a wireless network security solution, see the SonicWall TZ Series and SonicPoint Series.