Business owners: Offering poor wi-fi for patrons is worse than none

Business owners: Offering poor wi-fi for patrons is worse than none

Summary: Working all over town I am exposed to lots of places with free wi-fi. Unfortunately, it's often very poor and unreliable for customers.

Poor wifi zone

You own a small business and you notice that many people frequent your competitors and pull a laptop or tablet out of their bag and get to work. You've read how many establishments bear the expense of providing free wi-fi for their customers to entice them to come in and keep coming back. 

You're not technically experienced so you contract the wi-fi service out to either a big company or a small local business. The initial installation of the equipment goes well, and soon you are able to advertise about your free wi-fi. What you may not realize is that your customers soon notice that your wi-fi is not only spotty, it usually sucks.

Perhaps your provider offered you tiered service that charges you more the better bandwidth they deliver. You thought about it and decided that since you are providing your customers the service at no cost that you'd go with the slowest, cheapest bandwidth available. That's understandable, you're a small business after all and need to watch your costs.

Once your establishment gets the reputation of having poor wi-fi you can expect regular customers who need dependable wi-fi to go elsewhere.

Be aware that this can come back to haunt you as regular customers soon realize they cannot depend on your wi-fi. They come in to get work done and they can't do that because your service is not consistent or is too slow most of the time. Mobile workers have deadlines and can't be cut off when the going gets tough.

Working away from my office most of the time, I understand this is the way it is and I always have the ability to connect via my own 4G/LTE connection. That's not typical though, and once your establishment gets the reputation of having poor wi-fi you can expect regular customers who need dependable wi-fi to go elsewhere. This week I've heard two such workers mention to others that they no longer go to Business X as they can't always get online. In these cases the free wi-fi is not attracting customers, it's driving them away.

One phenomenon I'm noticing more often lately is throttled service. In several shops I've seen wi-fi service that is good until doing something like updating an app. Watching the bandwidth closely, I start downloading an update, say 10MB, and watch it begin fast and then throttle down to very low speed. It's obvious that the business's wi-fi provider monitors activity and steps the speed down when "large" downloads occur. Their trigger for the throttling is not very big.

This too will keep customers away once they experience this regularly. They need to get things done and they either can't do it all or it's a horrible experience. They end up going to the joint down the street that doesn't have these issues.

I understand how hard it is to be a small business owner. Profit margins are often thin and costs have to be watched closely. If that's the case with your operation, maybe you'd be better off without the wi-fi service.

Like every aspect of your business, your objective with the wi-fi should be to provide a good experience for your customers. If it costs too much to provide good wi-fi, perhaps you should add a tiny bit to all of your prices to cover it. Make sure your patrons are happy to be in your shop, and more importantly will be happy to return again and again. Otherwise, you might as well hang a big sign like the one above in your front window.

Note: I wrote this article in a coffee shop known for its poor wi-fi. I didn't use my LTE connectivity to see how it progressed. As expected, it was a horrible, drawn out affair.

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Tablets

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  • My favourite is the one where

    you go to connect, and it tries to load the router gateway intercept page, and can't even do that!
  • Toronto Subway Station

    My personal favourite (not!) is the WiFi that was recently added to Toronto's main station. It starts by playing advertising. By the time that the ad finishes, you are unto your next train and are leaving the station. LOL!!!!

    Only if you are loitering would you find any use for this WiFi. Of course, the last thing that you want is people cluttering your station for no good reason. Now, if they could put on the trains, with my 50 minute commute, that would be amazing.
  • Finally! Some One actually Said it

    This is so true. Thank you for articulating this so well.
  • I've been to one business that always needed to reboot its router.

    I've been to one business that always needed to reboot its router. Otherwise the router just wouldn't connect to some of my devices.
  • Stop abusing the goodwill of those companies

    "They come in to get work done"

    And there is the problem - the expectation, no I would go so far to say it's a sense of entitlement, that these companies are providing you WiFi to get work done.


    They are providing you with WiFi as a courtesy, to check email and do some quick web searches, then leave and let the next person use it. It's people who abuse the WiFi that cause problems, not the company.

    This is why coffee shops are starting to take measures to reduce the number of people who sit there camped out using free WiFi all day.

    Here's just one article:

    Bing search terms: "coffee shops covering outlets" - 41,300,000 RESULTS
    • And it doesn't help

      when your using a Chromebook to create this article in the cloud. Content can easily be created off-line using a real computer, and easily uploaded when complete.
    • Well, if they want customers

      James puts it quite directly that people usually add free Wi-Fi to entice customers to come and buy their products. Of course people would like to hang out at a restaurant to do their work, but if they can't live up to the promise of "Wi-Fi" it's better to not have it. Then people will come in on the quality of your goods and services.
  • Most hotels with "free wi-fi" fall into this category

    I've stayed in plenty of hotels that promise the same thing -- and then so many devices log on that the servers and routers can't handle the load. It's beyond useless and extremely aggravating. Really, if an establishment's only purpose is to claim to offer a service, don't bother. You'll cost yourself more goodwill points than you earn.
  • Work Done?

    "Customers come in to get work done..." Why don't customers come in and buy something and go back to work/home and get their work done? Isn't it ungrateful/illogical to complain about the quality of something offered for free?
    My thought is that they should cut off the free WiFi and drop the price of their product a small amount. That way everyone benefits instead of just a few ungrateful geeks. By the way, in no way am I believing that work is being done on these little devices while at the coffee shop. It's more like a style statement. "Look at me, look at me, I'm trendy."
  • Agreed

    If a merchant offers shoddy service in one aspect of his business, he's likely to do so in others as well. Not that anyone should expect perfection; the best one can do is good enough.
    John L. Ries
  • From the coffee-shop's point of view...

    ...did you buy more coffee because you were sitting there longer? It wouldn't at all surprise me if this was the work of the same consultant who advised drug-stores to keep all the cigarettes by the door "They're clearly not interested in being healthy, so get them in and out as fast as possible" :-) I can see it now "If they're downloading a big file, slow it down. That way they'll buy another coffee, and maybe a sandwich, and if it's REALLY slow, you can sell them some coffee cake as well".
  • Why do you feel you deserve both free AND good wifi?

    The business probably put this in place as an enticement yes, but not for you to loiter all day and pretend to work by sucking up bandwidth. Then, you get people complaining to a 19 year old barista who doesn't know an IP address from their arsehole about the problem, who then tells the manager and the manager becomes instant IT guy and reboots the router because it was something he read on Google.

    The sense of entitlement in the US is astounding these days! The $2 they make on that cup of coffee you may, or may not have, purchased isn't going to get you T1 speeds, and the fact that you sit there and take up a table for X amount of time is time lost to selling something to another customer.
  • We've talked to hundreds of coffee shop and cafe owners

    I thought I'd add a little more color to the discussion around whether or not coffee shops and cafes want digital nomads like myself working from their businesses.

    I recently founded a company called Workfrom - - and we feature the best coffee shops and cafes for working. We've talked to hundreds of owners and the overwhelming consensus is simple. A busy coffee shop is a good coffee shop. Most of these businesses experience ebbs and flows in their daily traffic. Having people stay for a few hours and enjoy the space, WiFi, coffee and food helps to even out the ups and downs of traffic and helps to attract others to come in for a while.

    It may seem counter intuitive at first, but the customers that come to work for hours generally spend more money on average and become loyal customers; spending much more over time. We evangelize for the businesses that welcome us and we bring others in for meetings and the like.

    This is not simply my opinion but rather the results of months of hard work and research. I see the articles that are written about a owner deciding to remove the WiFi or cover up plugs. This stuff is happening but it is by far the edge case. We work with businesses that are actively trying to get more people working from their shops.

    Now a big part of what we're doing is educational as well. We are building a community of nomadic workers who embrace the principles of good workspace stewardship, a commitment to support work-friendly businesses with our money and a desire to have these businesses as partners. We understand these businesses afford us great environments to do our work and for that we are grateful.

    We know this way of working is growing, love it or not, and we are bringing thought leadership, community and a layers of business value to the experience.

    I hope this gives some insights into what we've learned.