Small Businesses See Value in Free WiFi for Customers, Employees

More than half (55 percent) of businesses providing WiFi said they believe it has resulted in higher sales per customer visit.

Offering free WiFi works better at keeping customers happy than common waiting area conveniences like candy, water or magazines, according to a national survey of entrepreneurs and small business IT decision-makers conducted by Bredin Research and sponsored by Comcast Business.

These small businesses that offer WiFi, be they coffee shops, bars, restaurants, retailers, doctor’s offices or others, are leveraging the service to attract new clientele, improve customer loyalty and raise their profile within the community, the survey indicated.

Nearly eight in 10 businesses offering WiFi (79 percent) say it helps keep customers happy while they wait. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) report it has encouraged repeat business, and 55 percent say it has brought in new customers.

Those businesses that expected increased revenues in 2013 are more likely to promote the WiFi they offer (64 percent versus 38 percent of businesses that expected decreased revenues).

In turn, customers are more likely to promote these businesses through their social media channels. More than half (55 percent) of businesses providing WiFi said they believe it has resulted in higher sales per customer visit.

Nearly 20 percent of the business owners surveyed promote themselves as "community hubs," such as a meeting place for church groups, sports clubs or other community groups, indicating small business-owners are waking up to the notion that complimentary WiFi service has extended marketing opportunities attached to it.

"Main Street businesses and entrepreneurs of all types recognize that wireless Internet access is a must for their patrons, and that providing free WiFi can give them a competitive edge," said Bill Stemper, president, Comcast Business. "More and more, we are seeing that if a business provides WiFi now to its employees for business purposes, extending access to its customers is a logical next step that is a way to keep them coming back in the future. Given the challenges that small businesses face in today’s uncertain economy, we are encouraged that technologies like WiFi will help sustain growth."

Separate from offering WiFi to patrons, respondents’ employees use WiFi for business purposes such as accessing corporate resources (49 percent), tracking inventory (36 percent) and holding conferences with business partners and customers (35 percent).

A whopping 93 percent of these businesses believe that WiFi enhances productivity, suggesting companies with growing revenue were more likely than non-growing companies to use WiFi as a customer amenity.

Most encouragingly, many respondents recognize the benefits of offering WiFi, including raising their company profile (41 percent) and keeping up with the competition (38 percent).

Of those small businesses that currently don’t offer WiFi to patrons, 61 percent plan to offer it soon or would consider providing it.