Woolworths revives customer free wi-fi for supermarkets

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Woolworths revives customer free wi-fi for supermarkets

Pursues digital navigation opportunities with revamped network.

Woolworths has revived customer free wi-fi and laid out plans to build out digital navigation and other in-store aids as part of a network transformation project.

iTnews revealed the network transformation project back in late June, which will see Cisco technology including SD-WAN deployed across the retailer’s 3000 stores.

The project was publicised in a video played at the US version of the Cisco Live conference in mid-June; this has now been augmented by a written case study, which provides new details about how Woolworths plans to make use of its newly-revamped network.

The first new offer to customers will come in the form of free wi-fi at supermarkets. 

Woolworths has been toying with free wi-fi since 2012 and does offer it at selected stores already.

However, with all of Woolworths stores being progressively moved onto NBN fibre and store networks and connectivity management being upgraded with Cisco, a wider free wi-fi offering is back on the cards.

“Our customer’s expectations are changing radically,” Woolworths general manager of IT, service, operations and infrastructure Patrick Misciagna said.

“We see connectivity as key to a rich in-store experience. Customer free wi-fi is our next big step, and Cisco will help us roll it out.”

A separate FAQ on Woolworths' website confirms that "some of our stores already provide wi-fi access for free and we’re working on adding more stores very soon."

The retailer's free wi-fi play was originally intended so that customers could use apps in-store, especially when cellular reception might be poor.

Woolworths launched an Everyday Rewards loyalty app this year and also revamped its separate Woolworths app. 

In-store experience

Customer free wi-fi is only the beginning of how Woolworths plans to use its revamped network.

Misciagna provided some clues as to where Woolworths’ thinking is.

“We’re moving toward virtual assistants, store navigation, and a new way to shop for our customers,” he said.

Some of this has been on Woolworths’ roadmap - or at least part of its long-term vision - for several years, though it was never clear when the retailer planned to advance some of these ideas.

Back in mid-2018, iTnews exclusively reported comments made by Misciagna to an industry event, where he envisioned - among other things - suggestive selling and purchase reminders made via apps.

It’s worth noting that much of Misciagna’s vision back then has come true: highly-networked stores are now being enabled through the Cisco deal, while his idea that self-service checkouts can recognise produce without manual input from the shopper became a reality earlier this year using AI-enabled scales from a local start-up.

The transformed networks at stores are expected to feed store managers “real time access to customer insights”, the case study notes.

This real-time data can be used to “enhance the in-store shopper experience”, as well as guide decisions on store operations, including - it appears - the operation of “shopping lanes”, though it isn’t clear if this is a reference to managing congestion in aisles or at staffed points-of-sale.

The written case study points to an ongoing advisory role for Cisco in the different ways that Woolworths will use its revamped network.

This comes in the form of Woolworths’ use of Cisco business critical services, described in brochureware [pdf] as a “subscription service that provides key IT roles with trusted expertise, powered by analytics, insights, and automation”.

These may be used by Woolworths to optimise its private cloud environment or by “distribution centre managers [to] utilise secure IoT devices that are easy to install and manage, and gain real-time access to operations information.” 

“If an issue does arise, such as a safety issue, they can rapidly identify the cause and fix it quickly,” the case study says.

“In the data centre, network operations managers can work with an infrastructure and software that is simplified and consistent, providing complete real-time visibility into the state of their environment. 

“Woolworths anticipates the result will enable the organisation to respond faster to new customer demands and business challenges, and improved availability of services that drive revenue and support the customer experience.”

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