If you own a business where people have to wait, don't you think it's worth the $50 to provide free wireless internet? If you own a restaurant with a bar area or a bar, isn't it worth the $50 to differentiate yourself from the competition? On the waiting side of things, time goes faster if you can get some work done or browse the internet; on the revenue side of things, people will spend more time in your establishment if they can work while the eat and drink.
Let me focus on the bar/restaurant scenario: unless you are a large chain and have strictly controlled IT policies, chances are good that you have a DSL line or T1 coming into your building. For about $50, you can add a wireless router into the mix and keep your internal data easily segmented from the open internet access.
So let's say that I own Joe's bar in the Tech Center -- it's nothing special, but I serve alcohol and typical bar food. I add in wireless internet access for $50, spend $100 printing a sign to advertise it, put it on my website at no cost, and update my CitySearch profile to include those details at no cost [bonus points if I write a blog and announce it]. Now I attract people to come in a little earlier in the afternoon because they can make it seem like they are still at work. To be conservative, let's say an extra 5 people come in every Friday for an extra hour; let's say that each person incrementally drinks one more beer at $5 per beer for a total of $25; let's say that I incrementally keep those people most of the year, so about 50 Fridays or a total of $1250 per year -- deduct the initial startup of $150 and I net $1100. What's great about it is that I rarely, if ever, have to make any sort of investment again -- most people would love to get an $1100 return in year one on an investment of $150.
Now let me focus on the waiting scenario and apply it to a doctor's office: again, unless you're some sort of chain, you likely control your own IT policy, so you make the same investment of $50 and maybe $100 in some sort of advertising. Most people assume that their doctor will be late and most of the time the doctor will be significantly late, so if they know that they can get work done in the waiting room, they are more likely to use the doctor with the free wireless internet than another doctor.
So let's say that I, Doctor Hollman, invest $150 in wireless and word gets around and I get 15 new patients over the course of the first year. Now I've seen what a normal visit gets billed at, but let's just estimate a normal check-up at $100 -- I just made $1500 for a $150 investment for a net of $1350. Again, the investment does not need to be made again, so that's a huge return in year 1 and an even bigger return in year 2.
Believe me, as iPhones and iPod Touches and MacBook Airs and all of the copies of those devices become more prevalent, offering free wireless will become less of a differentiator and more of a strategic imperative, but why not take advantage of it now while it still can differentiate you?
By the way: this is really easy for your competition to copy, but only if they can figure it out.
By the way number 2: if you need someone to help you pull this off in Colorado, shoot me an e-mail.
When Panera Bread first started rolling out free WiFi a few years back, I thought it was brilliant. We go there often and almost always see multiple people surfing with their bagel or sandwich.
I remember when this first happened in 2003-2004 that Starbucks was so hung up on monetizing their WiFI, as was Barnes & Noble and Borders.
Over the past few years, even the tire store where I go for oil changes offers free WiFi.
A brick & mortar business will think nothing of spending $1,000 a month on a big ad in the telephone book.
But $0-$50/month on providing from WiFi for better customer retention and less client grumbling... maybe I'm missing something, but this seems like a slam dunk.
It also reinforces the reason why many businesses that force people to wait don't have clocks in the waiting area.
But if you can distract customers into doing something useful, the time definitely goes faster.
The only other "hidden" expense...
Perhaps you need to have a good computer consultant on call to make sure everything's set up securely from the outset and to provide ongoing support when things go wrong.
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