Should Your Business Offer Free WiFi? Read This First!

WiFi hotspots, which used to be limited to high-end coffee shops, can now be found in many different kinds of businesses. From doctor's offices to auto repair shops and restaurants, free WiFi is almost expected today, as more and more people become connected to their mobile devices. Would offering free WiFi to your customers be beneficial to your business? The answer is contingent upon your circumstance, so we've gathered the information below to better assist you in making a decision.

A 2014 survey of more than 400 small, consumer-facing businesses across the U.S. showed that customers spend more time and money in places that provide free WiFi. About 62 percent of respondents said customers stayed longer in their businesses since they started offering free WiFi, and 50 percent said this brought in more money. More than three-quarters rated WiFi as being "important" or "very important" to their bottom line.

Another survey created by Comcast showed that free WiFi is now one of the best amenities a small "Main Street" business can offer its customers. More than 80 percent of business owners indicated that wireless Internet access kept their patrons happier in waiting rooms than other freebies like candy, water or magazines. 65 percent of respondents said it encouraged repeat business, 55 percent said it brought in new customers, which resulted in higher sales per visit.

Is Free Wifi Right for Your Business?

Offering free WiFi obviously works best for businesses that want to encourage customers to spend time in their establishment and purchase more while they are there. This has proven especially beneficial to coffee shops, restaurants, and bookstores. It can also increase customer satisfaction for businesses with waiting areas where people would otherwise be bored, like auto repair shops and dentists' offices. But if your company doesn't fit either of these categories, it might be a waste of money.

Before making a decision, ask your loyal customers if they would make use of a WiFi hotspot if you set it up. You might also see what your competitors are doing. If they're offering free WiFi, you may need to follow suit in order to level the playing field.

More than 80 percent of business owners indicated that wireless Internet access kept their patrons happier in waiting rooms than other freebies like candy, water or magazines.

However, no technology is perfect, and WiFi can present various problems if it's not set up correctly. Here are some potential issues you should be aware of:

  • Few things are as frustrating for a computer user as a slow or intermittent Internet connection, and offering second-rate WiFi could do you more harm than good. Before committing yourself, contact your Internet service provider to make sure you have enough bandwidth to provide fast, reliable service, and find out how many users you can support at the same time.
  • When setting up your new WiFi hotspot, be sure to keep it separate from your business network so hackers can't use it to access your company's computers. This can be done by keeping your WiFi on a separate "subnet" from your regular network.
  • Another security precaution is to password-protect your WiFi system so only your customers can access it. Otherwise, it will be easy for anyone in the neighborhood to grab your WiFi signals and pick up the information your customers are sending and receiving. Tell your customers what the password is, and change it often.
  • Establishing your business as a WiFi hotspot is relatively simple and shouldn't cost very much. Ask your Internet service provider for advice. Your current service agreement may already allow you to offer connectivity to your customers. You should also research rates to see whether you'll pay extra for excessive usability.

If you've decided that offering WiFi will be good for your business, all you'll need is a router and a little technical know-how to set it up. Again, your Internet service provider should be able to guide you through the initial setup and maintenance. Consider a trial period to determine how your hotspot is affecting your bottom line.