The Guardian found that almost every town centre in England and Wales has declined since 2013. Rising inflation rates and the shift to online shopping are just two of the factors that have resulted in around 40 shops closing per town centre.
‘The High Street Report’ from the government found an increase in empty shops and a decline in footfall due to shifting consumer trends and established retailers reaching the end of their lifecycle. Fewer stores means fewer visitors and the knock-on effect impacts the whole community.
It’s an issue that has reached all corners of the UK and local communities are desperate to halt the trend. One of the methods that’s seen the most success is the introduction of community WiFi systems that are available for visitors to use.
Local Communities and Town Centres Before WiFi
The initial rise of shopping centres and then later consumers’ reliance on online shopping has caused serious problems for town centres, high streets and local communities. Areas that used to thrive saw visitor numbers drop dramatically and financial hardship as a result.
Many communities were slow to react or adapt, persisting with outdated facilities and failing to understand what visitors were looking for. With so much choice available, if a particular town didn’t offer the right infrastructure, then visitors would simply look elsewhere.
It wasn’t just the visitors who were finding the lack of WiFi frustrating. Public WiFi can be used by small businesses to target specific customers, measure engagement and as a platform to market themselves. Without it, they were falling behind the competition.
Some UK towns realised they had to take serious action to regenerate their areas. It needed to be more than just physical upgrades, they had to be digital too. They introduced community WiFi systems that were free to use for residents, businesses and visitors.
The Impact That WiFi Has Had
Areas that have established themselves as ‘Digital Towns’ have seen significant improvements in visitor figures and a boost to the local economy. It’s a great selling point for a town and it can be the difference between shoppers staying local or heading to the nearest shopping centre.
More Visitors to Boost the Economy
Take Falmouth, for example. They wanted to consolidate their position as a popular destination for visitors by investing in a public WiFi network. The Falmouth Business Improvement District (BID) and Falmouth Town Council worked together to find a solution that would be able to support high usage during peak visitor periods.
After implementing a robust and high-speed network, Falmouth is now enjoying increased dwell time from visitors which has helped local businesses. It’s been such a success that the Falmouth Town Council are considering an expansion of the network. You can read more about this case study by clicking the link below.
One of the key benefits of the Falmouth example is the single authentication login that visitors can enjoy. The town receives many repeat visitors each year who would otherwise have to go through the sign-up process each time. Instead, the community WiFi system remembers each user, making connections simple and straightforward.
This streamlined process is exactly what visitors are looking for in a public WiFi network. They’re used to being able to connect to WiFi on public transport, in restaurants and even at stadiums, so it’s something they expect when they arrive.
Making the connection process as easy as possible helps visitors to have a positive experience. The better time they have, the more likely they are to return and recommend the town to their friends. This positive exposure and word of mouth can bring more people and further boost sales for local businesses.
Using Data to Predict Consumer Trends
With a network in place, local communities can collect valuable data that can be used to inform the decisions they make. For example, Ballymoney, in Northern Ireland, introduced a WiFi system that’s had a fantastic impact on businesses there.
The Council has used a public WiFi system to collate and track visitor data. This information is used to analyse customer trends and determine what is and isn’t working. With this detailed data, the Ballymoney community can ensure it makes decisions that visitors will benefit from.
Access For Everyone
Introducing a free WiFi system provides a reliable internet connection to everyone, regardless of their background. Members of the community that would otherwise be unable to afford access to the internet can use the network to improve their situation.
Whether it’s just using Skype so they can contact loved ones who live elsewhere or the ability to access educational content, being able to connect to the internet can make all the difference to someone.
Similarly, students who desperately need access to the internet in order to carry out their studies, can access free WiFi at libraries and coffee shops. They can study for exams, even if they don’t have access to WiFi at home.
Large scale WiFi network rollouts are complex projects. To ensure your town stays on budget and on schedule, you need to find the right partner to work with.
Finding the Right WiFi Provider
Implementing a large-scale WiFi network is a complicated process that needs input from experts. It’s a major project that can produce unique challenges that need to be overcome. The right provider will have all of the experience and knowledge necessary to deal with these obstacles and ensure the project is a smooth one.
It’s important to work with a provider that can manage the full WiFi project from design and planning through to implementation and monitoring. The more work that’s done before implementation, the easier the process will be. Post-launch monitoring can then ensure that any teething problems are sorted and capacity figures are checked so that all users receive the best possible connection.
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