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How Ahold Delhaize is using Wi-Fi roaming technology as a platform for data-led innovation

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels September 1, 2023
Summary:
While some retailers might be slower to embrace innovation, this company is making it easy for its customer to get online in-store – and that access provides benefits for everyone.

wi-fi

Retail giant Ahold Delhaize has deployed OpenRoaming, an initiative from the Wireless Broadband Alliance that provides an industry standard for automatic and secure Wi-Fi access.

The business challenge the retailer faced was that it wanted to ensure customers could access the internet in-store without having to rely on flaky 4G connections. Ahold Delhaize worked with Cisco to deploy WBA’s OpenRoaming Wi-Fi technology across their stores in Belgium.

The retailer, which has about 7,500 stores globally, wanted to boost Wi-Fi security and coverage, according to Rolf Vanden Eynde, Manager of the Center of Excellence for Infrastructure Engineering at Ahold Delhaize:

It's bringing seamless connectivity to the customer and enhances their journey in our stores. At the same time, it’s enabling our business to be ready for tomorrow's real-time retail and all the applications and features that come with that shift, because they will all need connectivity.

4G signals are often weak in-store. You've got metal roofing and concrete walls, so the signal doesn't come through strong. Another aspect to consider is that it would be absurd for me to pay a service provider to put Wi-Fi in the store and then capture the generic data. So, once OpenRoaming became available, we started looking at it.

Embracing change

Vanden Eynde says OpenRoaming provides a step up in wireless maturity. Rather than only using Wi-Fi access to support operational processes, such as store associates using handheld scanners for stock-taking purposes, the retailer has been able to open internet access to its customers. With that provision in place, it’s much easier to think about how the business can use mobile technology as a platform for further innovation: 

Seamless connectivity is a prerequisite for anything you might want to do. Any retailer is looking into those extended functions. But real-time retail needs connectivity. And if you’re a retailer that wants to innovate for your customers, then I think seamless connectivity is a first step you need to take – and that's where OpenRoaming fits in.

The technology is already providing a platform for innovation. Ahold Delhaize stores in the Netherlands have introducing a system that allows customers to self-scan their purchases using the company’s mobile app.

OpenRoaming also allows Ahold Delhaize to build a stronger awareness of its customers. Instead of only knowing that a customer is in-store when they present their loyalty card at the checkout, the retailer knows who’s entered the building through their Wi-Fi connectivity. In the longer term, this could mean further innovation, says Vanden Eynde:

We see you connecting to the Wi-Fi, and there’s an opportunity at that point in time to engage with you and maybe push a relevant promotion or a reminder for something on your shopping list. It's that functionality that’s coming. We're not there yet, and I think all the retailers look at that type of service, but that's the next step.

For Ahold Delhaize, an added bonus is that the technology provided by OpenRoaming and Cisco is helping to boost customer loyalty. By giving customers easy access to Wi-Fi, the retailer has increased engagement with its loyalty apps, particularly among younger users. Instead of having to plough through a series of popups to sign in to the network, customers are now automatically provided with Wi-Fi access when they join the retailer’s loyalty app:

We are leveraging the terms and conditions that customers accept by installing the app to also push them the parameters for the Wi Fi, so it’s then a seamless connection to get on the Wi-Fi. You don't even have to look at the list of available networks. When you install the app, you have Wi-Fi.

Overcoming challenges

Vanden Eynde says there are technological challenges involved in moving towards increased connectivity and real-time data provision in retail. The cutting-edge nature of OpenRoaming provision means many of the integrators his company might have worked with are not familiar with the technology. His team got to work directly with Cisco, he says:

That partnership enabled us to take these steps effectively. It probably would have gone a whole lot slower if we had to work with the integrators.

Another challenge the retailer had to consider came in the form of data rules and policies, such as the General Data Protection Regulation. Vanden Eynde gives an example of how his team overcame these hurdles effectively:

We had to implement opt-out buttons, so that if you don't want OpenRoaming anymore, you could step out of it. So, I wouldn't call it a difficulty. It's just taking care of all the important issues.

More generally, Vanden Eynde says there is a wide spectrum of innovation across different retail organizations. While Ahold Delhaize is using digital transformation to deliver new services for its customers, other retailers are not quite so advanced – and that could mean a missed opportunity:

The margins can be tighter in retail than other sectors. But that also forces you at the same time to really look carefully at cutting-edge technology. If you’re a retailer and you’re not looking at innovation, then you should because otherwise you're in danger of falling out of the boat.

He advises other business and technology leaders who are thinking about moving into a similarly pioneering area of technology to take a bottom-up approach to innovation:

If there is a business case, try to link it with technology. Take a helicopter view and look at the potential for integration – what do you have and what does the business need? Don't put in a new piece of infrastructure for every new business requirement. Try to get the most out of what's already there.

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