Study: Yes, There Are Benefits of Offering Free WiFi

Benefits of Offering Free WiFi

It’s gotten much more common today to find businesses that offer complimentary WiFi for their patrons, especially in cities.  Still, there are many places outside of Big-City-America where free WiFi is the exception and not the rule.  (Trust me, living and working in semi-rural Ohio, I know!)

If you are on the fence about whether to offer free WiFi to your customers, you may be wondering:  is there any real evidence of the benefits of offering free WiFi?

One recent study suggests that small retail businesses are indeed seeing a return from offering complimentary WiFi to their customers.

Devicescape commissioned a survey conducted by iGR of 400 U.S. small businesses with retail places of business.  The survey found that providing free WiFi for customers increases:

  • Foot traffic
  • Time spent on premises
  • The amount customers spend

The survey focused on independent “mom and pop” retail stores, including bars, nightclubs, restaurants, fast food places, coffee shops, clothing boutiques, book shops and salons.

Biggest Benefits of Offering Free WiFi

One of the biggest benefits of offering free WiFi is that it increases the time spent on premises.  Consumers tend to stay longer if they can use their tablets and laptops via WiFi.  Of the businesses surveyed, almost 62 percent said that customers spent more time in their shop or facility once WiFi was introduced.

Around 50% said customers spent more money, too.  And if you’re wondering how many implied that customers were just hanging around, taking up space and spending less (every business owner’s fear), the answer is only a tiny number of business owners said customers spent less when free WiFi was available.

The graph pictured above shows key breakdowns.

Different business owners have different goals for providing free WiFi to customers.  Some do it in order to provide better customer service (and attract those 5-star online reviews!).  Some do it to bring more customers in the door.  Some deploy free WiFi to get customers to buy more.

The ones who deployed it to serve customers better reported the highest success rates, at a whopping 79 percent.  After that, the ones who offered free WiFi to improve sales numbers had the next highest rate of success (72%).  Increasing foot traffic in the door rated the third highest success at 69%.

Would Small Businesses Stop Providing WiFi?

Not many would, judging by this survey.

Three-fourths of the small businesses surveyed by iGR said they considered complimentary WiFi to be important or very important to their businesses.  Perhaps it’s because the competitor down the street offers free WiFi and so they feel they must, too, in order to compete. Or perhaps it’s because consumers are used to being online all the time and today expect an Internet connection wherever they go.  Or perhaps, it’s because of the dollars and cents benefits described above.

The president of the firm that conducted the survey, Iain Gillott, summed it up when he said, “The availability of WiFi is no longer an innovation limited to the large retail chains — small businesses are now offering the same services in their establishments, for both employees and customers. In the near future, small businesses will consider WiFi as fundamental to their success as electricity or running water.”


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

19 Reactions
  1. I recently moved to a new state and had no internet in my home for 8 days. For an internet marketer, that’s disabling. So I started going regularly to businesses that offered free wifi and you bet I spent money and time there.

  2. Over here in London, there are many places that offer free Wifi. In my local area alone, off the top of my head, I can think of three places that offer it, including Starbucks.

    It makes the difference; you can go in, leave, come back an hour or two later and see the same person on their laptop, with a different drink, and maybe a muffin.

    They’re also more likely to come back.

  3. Martin Lindeskog

    There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch! 😉

    Our place, Blue Chip Café & Business Center provided free WiFi for our customer. They received a code when they purchased something. We had a dedicated internet connect and hot spot with VOIP technology. It costed us plenty of money, but we got some press about it, with an article in the big newspaper in Gothenburg and in a professional journal.

    This is more than five years ago, so we were pretty early with free wifi.

    I think that we will see more specialized places with free wifi, that is catered for freelance work, between your home and office. Like a real third place. See Workshop Café in San Francisco as one example.

    • Hi Martin…

      Is it something you’d consider doing again, as I’m guessing it’s probably cheaper to do these days. If so, what would you do differently? or what would you have done differently back then anyhow?

      • Martin Lindeskog

        Ebele: I will do it again, someday, somewhere! 😉

        I have written a post on Open Forum (AMEX) that I have learned from this venture…

    • I can certainly understand business wanting customers to purchase something to use their wifi, However, I would leave and let everyone know about how your business “FREE Wifi” works. 99% offer FREE wifi with no strings attached and those are the businesses I rather do business with. Hey, I may not buy from you today but who’s to say I won’t be back tomorrow with family and friends. Honestly, have to purchase something just to use your wifi…. will lets just say, there are a lot of more business offering Free wifi and they mean it when they say, FREE.

  4. Owning and operating a small cafe business has given me insight to how people use the space with and without wifi. With wifi ! I do have people in the space , yet they camp for hours with take out cups and make numerous trips to the water station. Sometimes they arrive, set up and wait to go to counter. On average buying less than $5 worth of product. visiting on average about 3hrs. Taking up the biggest table with bag ,coat, laptop and even sometimes outside food. Without WiFi, first question is asking for wifi (not coffee choice) I do the same amount of business with people tethering to their phones, and actually buying more and not staying as long. Not as many bodies taking up valuable seating. They are more respectful, engaging, personable. I would like to hear others comments. I fight with my partner constantly because we are not in a high traffic area.

  5. On your graph at the top of this page 45.9 + 50.1 + 0.1 is not 100

  6. why would hairdressers use Wi-Fi in their shop and why would this benefit them and their customers?

    • I see people in the hairdresser chair texting, reading and answering emails all the time. If they are waiting 20 minutes for hair color to set, what else are they going to do? So I think that’s a very good reason for a hair salon to offer WiFi. 🙂

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