Begging for WiFi: Why retailers are missing the bored husband market

Technology commentator Paul Brislen is sick to death of waiting idly while his family finish their shopping. He explains why offering WiFi in apparel stores will increase foot traffic and dwell time for retailers by improving the customer experience for people accompanying shoppers.

I’m writing this on my phone while I wait for my wife and daughters to try on what would appear to be every top and skirt combo in this entire store.

I have been here all my life.

There is no seat – I’m on a step, leaning against a mirrored column, and occasionally one of the other shoppers tries to use my pillar to look at herself. I give them an appraising look and a thumbs up. They can’t see me at all – I am literally invisible to them – so I toy with the idea of rolling my eyes or fake gagging but never quite have the nerve to pull it off.

One of the outrageously young-looking women running the shop glares at me from time to time but she’s kept busy refolding all the stuff my family rejects.

Meanwhile, a little boy waits.

I’m lying of course. I have sat on that step and tried to use my phone to provide hours of endless entertainment (photos of otters are much cooler than goats, by the way) but most shops have no wifi and if you’re in the maul (sorry, mall) the cellphone coverage is usually pretty pants. See what I did there? I made a clothing joke.

That’s how bored I get in these places, and frankly that’s not good business.

Imagine if the store had a comfy seat. And WiFi. And donuts (although I’d settle for robot coffee). I’d be much more likely to encourage my family to take their time instead of huffing and pacing and generally generating anti-shopping signals. You shop, I’d say, I’m happy here with my WiFi (the password should be something funny like ‘WiFi4dads’) and my latte.

Sadly, stores seem to think that if they offer WiFi I’ll just be comparing prices with other stores and thus ripping them off. This suggests to me that they don’t understand why people go to shops in the first place – at least why my family goes to shops. It’s not so much the items, it’s the experience. They’re bonding, they’re being entertained and yes, they’re buying stuff. Could they find it online cheaper? Probably, but that defeats the purpose of this trip: they are enjoying their time.

I saw a sign in a bookshop the other day banning smartphones. Sure, people take photos of the book covers and buy the Kindle version but do you honestly think putting up a sign is going to stop that? All that does is encourage me not to go to your store again.

Shop owners need to figure out how to provide more than the online shopping experience or face being disrupted the way other market segments have been – just look at classified advertising, newspapers, music or television. Become a destination and you might just hang on to your shoppers. But don’t forget those of us sitting on the step.

Brislen is a technology commentator who runs his own PR and communications agency. You can find him on Twitter @paulbrislen or sitting awkwardly in the corner of many clothing shops. Do stop by to say hi.