Shopping Mall Wi-Fi Usage Up 185% on Black Friday, Up 80% Over Entire Thanksgiving Weekend 

Did you venture forth on Black Friday to try to capture the best deal possible – either for yourself or a gift for others? Did you turn to the phone in your pocket to help make educated purchase decisions?  If you answered yes to both questions, then you’re not alone.

On Black Friday, Wi-Fi usage on Boingo networks at more than 20 malls nationwide was up over 185%, versus Friday averages for the past three months. Frenzied holiday shoppers continued to use their mobile devices throughout the weekend, with Wi-Fi usage up 80% at malls during the first official shopping weekend of the holiday season, versus weekend averages over the past three months at these same locations.

Photo credit: Jack Gruber, USA Today

But this trend extends beyond the malls where Boingo offers Wi-Fi, since retailers as diverse as Saks Fifth Avenue, Kohl’s and Home Depot now offer Wi-Fi to their customers to enable their mobile research and encourage use of their native retail apps, in hopes of capturing sales via brick-and-mortar stores or their online channels.

In fact, according to IBM, shoppers searched for the best holiday deals in-store and online via mobile device simultaneously: the company found that on Black Friday, more than 58% of those mobile device users surveyed used their smartphones, compared with 41% who used their tablets to surf for sales. Retail analysts have declared brands like Walmart, Macy’s and Target the “winners” of the holiday shopping weekend for their seamless approach to multi-channel shopping (combination of in-store and online), embracing smartphone price checking with price matching programs, offering multi-featured apps for use via mobile device in-store, and enabling purchase and shipping via QR codes, among other offers.

Our family ventured out on Black Friday and took advantage of the sales at several stores – including Target.  I’ll admit that I used Target’s guest Wi-Fi to price check several Xbox games and accessories and found that Target’s prices were the same as Amazon’s – and once you factor in the 5% discount that comes with using a Target VISA card, we came out ahead by purchasing in-store. The two exceptions were “Just Dance 4” which was $5 cheaper on Amazon, but Target was offering a $10 gift card, which worked to Target’s advantage; and an extra Xbox controller, which was supposedly a doorbuster, but still more expensive than Amazon. We opted yes on the dancing game and no on the controller.

Much is made of “showrooming” – or using the retail store to check out a product, but buying it online – but Target seems to understand who their main competition is and competes pretty effectively when put head-to-head with Amazon. We spent a fair bit more than we planned to, in part because we kept seeing that our 5% Target VISA discount kept us below the Amazon prices for many items.

This aggressive expansion into multi-channel retailing by companies like Target (including price matching) has the ability to encourage consumer loyalty, and in many cases – including mine – support in-store purchases with confidence.

Another unique use of technology we ran into involved line-free checkouts at Nordstrom Rack. They now have floor clerks wearing lime-green shirts that can check you out throughout the store with a scanner-equipped iPhone. No long lines, no wayward kids, just flag down an associate and they lead you to a station with bags. Again, Internet access helped me discover that a North Face parka was a really good deal and led me to spend more than I had planned. (Did I really need a winter parka in Los Angeles? Sure! Ski season is almost upon us.)

With a record 247 million shoppers visiting stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 226 million last year, and total spending estimated to have reached $59.1 billion, of which more than $1 billion was generated in online sales on Black Friday alone, it’s clear that multi-channel shopping and mobile device use at retail are new Thanksgiving weekend shopping traditions, even in my household.

About Melody Demel

Melody is Senior Manager, PR for Boingo Wireless, where she is responsible for media relations, brand building and thought leadership initiatives. Melody is a die-hard Nebraska Cornhuskers fan and retired NCAA DI college field hockey player.
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