With the popularity of wifi growing among users year on year, more UK adults are now seeking out free public wifi as part of their overall shopping experience.

High street retailers who offer free wifi look set to reap the benefits with one in seven people (14%) insisting wifi access is crucial for them to consider entering a coffee shop while one in ten have changed venue because of a lack of internet access, according to a new study published today by O2 Wifi.

The “Wifi Britain” report from O2 Wifi takes a look at wifi usage on the high street and found the ability to log online for free crucial to shoppers’ choice of destination. Britons now choose their coffee bar not on the quality of the cappuccino or lattes, but instead on the availability and ease of making a speedy Internet connection so they can check their emails, connect on Facebook or chat with their friends.

Nearly three in five (58%) people admit they connect online when out shopping. Killing time while waiting is a big reason but just over one in five say they use it to check prices online and make sure they’re getting the best deal.

O2 Wifi published its “Wifi Britain” report as it hit its six millionth customer sign-up since its launch in 2011, two years ago. Over five million of those customers signed up in the last 12 months, making O2 Wifi the fastest growing wifi provider in the UK*. Chelsea Pensioner, Walter Swan (80), became the latest person to enjoy fast, safe and reliable internet access on the move this week in London’s Kensington and Chelsea – which offers free O2 Wifi across the borough.

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Since launch, O2 Wifi has established partnerships with major retailers nationwide as well as public venues such as The O2, Twickenham, Bluewater and the Central London boroughs of Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea.

The report goes on to reveal that 37% of Britons regard retail businesses that offer free wifi as being more “in-touch” with their customers than their competitors. Nearly a quarter (23%) view it as great marketing and
16% believe it positions high street brands as innovative
and forward thinking.

Gavin Franks, MD of O2 Wifi commented:

“At O2 Wifi, we have created a “free for everyone” user model that isn’t dependent on being a paying customer of either a broadband or mobile network. It is designed for the smartphone generation with simple sign-up and seamless connection which has meant adoption and use has grown rapidly. Going past six million customers is a significant landmark milestone for us as we move into becoming a trusted provider of digital services.”

“We work closely with a number of the best brands on the high street such as McDonald’s, Costa, Debenhams and House of Fraser to provide them with a wifi service that helps them engage with their customers both inside and outside the store. That can only be good news for the high street. Our research also shows that free public wifi is fast becoming a right and no longer a privilege.”

A quarter of Britons (25%) say they are more reliant on high-street wifi now than they were two years ago and 25% anticipate using it more frequently in the future.

O2 Wifi offers Retailers an opportunity to deliver a more digitally integrated experience for their customers. Looking ahead, shoppers would like to be able to be use their smartphones or tablets to check prices (46%), check stock availability (39%) and also pay for items to avoid queuing (38%). One in seven (15%) would like to be able to use their phones in-store to bring products to life using technology such as augmented reality. Increasingly retailers are using smart devices such as tablets for their staff to help serve customers in store

Doug Baker, IT Services Manager from McDonald’s said: “For years now, free wifi has been a fundamental part of our strategy to bring digital experiences to our customers. Since rolling out O2 Wifi across our UK restaurants less than a year ago, we’ve seen over two million customers take advantage of free O2 Wifi to connect their smartphone or tablet device.”

“Whether customers are using wifi for business meetings, friends sharing pictures and videos on their social networks, or for checking email over lunch, we’re seeing a definite shift in customer behaviour with people seeing the value in the service we’re providing and spending longer in our restaurants as a result.”

One in five (20%) say they feel frustrated – even angry – towards a business if it doesn’t offer free wifi. Users are also becoming more focused on the quality of the overall wifi experience. Only one in five (20%) thought having to sign-in with a username and password to get online was acceptable. Unlike other wifi providers, O2 Wifi auto-connects all registered users. In addition, all O2 customers who are signed up to O2 Wifi will be automatically registered for free wifi on the London Underground in the summer, taking away the hassle of signing up above ground or remembering a password.

O2 Wifi is free for everyone, regardless of network or broadband provider and once registered, customers are automatically connected each time they enter a coverage area. The state of the art hotspot network is widely available across a number of different venues nationwide including McDonald’s, Debenhams, Costa Coffee, House of Fraser and Fullers and Mitchell & Butlers pubs.

– Ends

O2 conducted research amongst a representative base of 2,000 UK adults in February 2013 with OnePoll under strict Market Research Society Guidelines.

* Fastest growing wifi network as measured by growth in registered users

Journalists can contact the Virgin Media O2 press office on:
press@virginmediao2.co.uk 01753 565656
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