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Department store retailer is first to offer wireless internet access to customers in all its shops

John Lewis announced Friday its intention to become the first UK department store retailer to offer free Wi-Fi access to customers in its shops nationwide using the BT Openzone service. 

The retailer said more than 60% of John Lewis customers research products online before visiting a shop to make a purchase and instore Wi-Fi access would allow them to continue and complete that journey, accessing product information and viewing ratings and reviews to influence their purchase, as part of a total multichannel retail proposition.

Customers will be able to surf all areas of the internet including competitors' sites to compare prices, reinforcing John Lewis's pricing promise to be 'Never Knowingly Undersold,' while Partners (staff) will be trained to help customers make the most informed purchases. Alongside this, Digital Champions will be available in each branch to help customers to shop online as part of John Lewis's commitment to Race Online, the government initiative to encourage people to use the internet.

Integrating mobile into customer journey

Simon Russell, John Lewis head of multichannel, said: “We recognise that mobile phones have become a crucial part of people's shopping habits. The roll out of Wi-Fi in our shops is a big step forward in helping customers to have all of the information they need at their fingertips to make an informed purchase.”

The BT Openzone Wi-Fi access will enable wireless internet connectivity for John Lewis shoppers via any wireless-enabled PC, tablet or smartphone. It is free to all customers who register once with an email address. And it is designed to give shoppers in all areas of John Lewis shops faster access to and the internet than when using 3G. It also provides access to the John Lewis mobile site, including My John Lewis and the Wish List, which will automatically sync between a customer's home PC and their mobile instore.

John Lewis said it is also developing an iPhone App to further enhance customers' in-store shopping experience. The app, which will launch soon, has a number of features to help customers access John Lewis online assortment, product reviews and video quickly and easily instore.

Part of extending multichannel vision 

Paul Coby, John Lewis IT director, said: “This is a major development in John Lewis's vision for multichannel retail. We have made great progress with online which is now growing at between 25% and 30% compared to last year, and amounts to circa 20% of our revenue. We know our customers are mobile and want to be connected anywhere, anytime and any place. This of course means in John Lewis shops and we are committed to providing that connectivity and easy access to our fantastic assortment through our customers' smart phones, iPhones and iPads.”

Chris Bruce, BT Openzone chief executive, said: “Using free Wi-Fi to engage and excite shoppers, John Lewis will undoubtedly increase brand affinity and business. It's an exciting time to be involved in retail marketing.”

Julia Priddle, head of key account management from e-commerce software provider ChannelAdvisor, commented that the introduction of free instore Wi-Fi for customers was a great move by John Lewis: “With mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets playing an ever greater role in shopping habits, retailers should be looking for ways that they can embrace these changes and use them to help deliver value and convenience to customers – whether they are shopping in their stores, online from home, or indeed online from within their stores.”

She added: “We still hear stories of some retailers deliberating blocking instore internet access or covering up barcodes on products to prevent shoppers from checking online prices using their mobile phones. This is clearly shortsighted and ultimately will drive customers elsewhere. By introducing this kind of initiative, John Lewis is clearly looking to put their customers first and I’m sure they’ll reap the rewards in the long run.”

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