In-store Wi-Fi is increasingly a must-have, as not only does it allow customers to research products, but gives retailers an insight into online research habits.

Why are we writing about it now?

John Lewis has become the latest retailer to commit to providing free Wi-Fi in-store, saying it wants to capitalise on the boom in m-commerce.

The company says over 60% of John Lewis customers research products online before purchasing in-store, and that Wi-Fi access allows them to continue that in the shop.

Who else is doing it?

In July, Tesco said it planned to expand its Wi-Fi coverage to all 2,700 of its UK sites allowing customers to use its collection of mobile applications in-store, including a GPS service that helps customers find particular products.

Several retailers are planning or considering it, including Aurora Fashions. Mobile phone retailer O2 made its Wi-Fi service free in its stores in January.

Why do it?

Wi-Fi enables retailers to capture data, because they can ask customers to complete a simple registration process before letting them use the service, and it means they can see how customers use the web and how they search.

With 3G networks still patchy, it could also be a good footfall driver as shoppers go to stores to use the service.

It also helps staff get easy access to online information as well, helping them to keep up with increasingly informed customers.

Is there a big demand from customers?

Customers’ use of mobile phones to shop is growing quickly. The number of searches done on mobiles grew by 168% in the quarter to September, according to the online retail monitor from the British Retail Consortium and Google, and customers are keen to check prices and reviews online when they shop in a store. It helps them find a product that might not be in stock in-store, and the signs are that the current level of demand is only going to keep growing. Macy’s chief marketing officer Peter Sachse said earlier this year that customers won’t walk into shops without it in the future.

How easy is it to set up and what are the costs involved?

The costs aren’t huge – most retailers already have in-store Wi-Fi for staff, and it may simply need a couple of security tweaks to make it ready for customer use. The bandwidth may need adjusting to allow for heavier use, and it depends what your Wi-Fi offer is already. The investment isn’t huge, and it’s something many say will be necessary to embrace to avoid losing customers in the future.