As More Retailers Become Wi-Fi Enabled, the Point of Sale is . . . Everywhere
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As a provider of transaction products and help desk services, I’ve seen what happens 
when Wi-fi technology is introduced into a retail environment.

Wi-fi, for most users, is a set of upside surprises.  It’s lower in cost than many expect, 
easier to implement than most believe, and its various benefits become more apparent 
with each selling season.

In Wi-fi PC environment, there’s a static check out station, and a Wi-fi antenna. 
Wire the latter to the former and you’re immediately “live.”  This, and the hook to 
the repeater or amplifier, is the only hard-wiring in the system.  The average cost for 
systems we see is $2500, compared to a conventional “plain vanilla’ check-out at $6000.

To realize Wi-fi’s value on the ISO / MLS level, you need only think about how you deal 
with customers to see how much easier the process will be once your – and their – 
paradigms are shifted a bit.

Rather than calling on individual merchants within a mall, focus your attention on mall
management, with the recommendation of installing a Wi-fi solution system-wide.  
The direct benefits for them are very persuasive, to wit:

Wi-fi reduces transaction time for tenants.  It also allows greater flexibility in checkout 
siting, compared to traditional solutions.  And if the merchant is new to the property, 
it allows ultimate flexibility in store layout.  Wi-fi also adapts to mobile checkout – 
the ultimate friend of the seller of upscale or impulse merchandise, where time is 
often a factor.  More on that in a minute.

Wi-fi is also the enabler of nonconventional selling – the sidewalk or tent sale, 
for example, because it accommodates these events with ease.

And Wi-fi’s power as a traffic-builder can’t be overstated.  Think of the Starbucks model, 
but don’t forget Border’s Books, Kinko’s and the millions of private Wi-fi networks that 
have sprung up, seemingly overnight.  Because we’re still in the early-adapting stages, 
Wi-fi is a competitive advantage that can be leveraged in advertising, and marketing 
in general, as an important infrastructural advantage.

Leading mall management companies are now aggressively using Wi-fi to draw 
shoppers (and would-be shoppers).  Among the latter group: US business travelers, 
27 million of whom carry laptops and/or Wi-fi enabled PDAs or phones, and 40% of 
whom are women.  Wi-fi is now standard in virtually every laptop sold in the US, a result,
perhaps, of plummeting component costs. One more fact to ponder: the number of Wi-fi
embedded devices in the US is projected to top 226 million units by 2008.  Good news for
everyone, with the exception of wireless/ cellular proponents.

Wi-fi in a closed loop environment is significantly more reliable than wireless.  
Wireless communicates long distances, Wi-fi is better for shorter distances – ¼ mile 
or so at the outside, but lacks the seamless wide connectivity of a cellular grid.  
This will change over time, however, as mesh networking becomes more common.  
Wi-fi also has some encumbrances, including blocking by structures, etc.  But 
work-arounds are do-able, and the cost of installing a Wi-fi network in a mall is low.  
Antennas placed in the ceilings of individual stores, or on the mall concourse, 
can be connected to one or more repeater for seamless coverage.

When a mall management firm buys into the Wi-fi concept, it gives the sales agent 
a significant advantage over competitors who don’t offer that solution.  There’s also 
the logistical advantage of avoiding calls on individual merchants.  Become the 
endorsed provider for that store group and the management firm becomes your 
agent for processing, with stores coordinating requirements through them.   It’s no 
different from any other utility, which is, indeed, what Wi-fi is.  If you deal with the 
right mall management, or property management company, you’ll also have an “in” 
for other properties in their portfolio.

Some mall managers expect a small fee for you becoming a preferred provider; 
others regard the program as a way to gain (or retain) tenants and do not assess a fee.

Getting back to merchant issues, Wi-fi in gives mall department and specialty stores 
greatest flexibility with check out.  And with the advent of Wi-fi terminals, you truly 
can go to the point of buying decision.  No more walking around the store with goods: 
check-out is “everywhere,” and opportunities for increased impulse buying – 
and reduced theft – are substantial.

This newest idea for the retail space is a mobile, self-contained check-out station, 
with a Wi-fi antenna, and Wi-fi enabled cash drawers and point of sale.  It’s incredibly 
agile:  essentially just a lightweight Rubbermaid cart with permanently mounted, 
rechargeable battery back-up, Wi-fi antenna and local cash drawer PC and ETR.  
Add bags, boxes and other sale supplies and you’re “ready to roll” wherever the 
customer is.  This is technology that’s been developed, tested and proved and is 
now moving into retail environments.

For a new retail location aiming for maximum productivity, a Wi-fi mobile-enabled 
station makes much more sense than a dedicated physical siting. They take up the 
same space, but the one that’s mobile is agile, rather than stagnant. Theft prevention 
is a big part of the reason that check-out is where it is -  at the front of the store,  
but hand-held, roving Wi-fi POP devices are now available. (Think car return at Avis.)

Sales agents would be wise to establish an alliance with a manufacturer, and offer 
leases on mobile checkout.  It’s a small ticket item this way, and merchants won’t 
get stuck with obsolescence as technology continues to evolve.

ExaDigm (Santa Ana, CA)) is a good example of a manufacturer addressing retail 
merchants’ concerns by offering a terminal, printer and operating system with 
interchangeable modems – Wi-fi modem, wireless modem and wired modem, 
so a single device can serve the merchant and maximize flexibility.  This is technology 
that’s adaptive to the store environment, wherever their mindset might be.

Adding Wi-fi to an existing PC cash drawer should be straightforward, and costs 
negligible, for merchants who are replacing existing equipment. The trend is away 
from electronic cash registers to PC cash drawers and software.   If Wi-fi malfunctions 
in this environment, reverting to the hardwired system is easy, because there’s 
built-in redundancy.

Wi-fi, like all technologies, is something that has to be learned, but it can give a 
salesperson a significant advantage over those who are less tech-savvy.  Anyone
can provide a credit card processing solution.  Sales agents who focus on providing 
greater value and flexibility will be the winners.

Biff Matthews is President of Thirteen Inc, the parent company of CardWare 
International. He is one of 12 founding members of the ETA, serving on 
its board, advisory board and committees.  (740) 522-2150.

West Edmonton Mall in Alberta is the world’s largest shopping and 
entertainment complex, and the largest Wi-fi-enabled entertainment 
and retail center.  Mall management expects to recoup incremental 
investment costs in under 24 months and achieve a 120% ROI in 2007 
from sales to tenants of Wi-fi access and voice-over-Wi-fi telephony. 
Triple Five, the mall's parent firm, is considering a similar installation 
for the Mall of America, Bloomington, MN.