“Why would a retailer go with a technology partner who can only design the WiFi?”

That’s how Mark BrackleyManaging Director at Jade Solutions sees it. His company is dedicated to connecting retailers to their customers through WiFi. In this episode Mark shares some tips retailers can use to find the right WiFi partner, as well as how they can leverage WiFi to improve the experiences and outcomes in their venues, including:

Focus on finding the right partner first – and the hardware second. As Mark puts it, it’s about making sure your partner and their solution can deliver the outcomes you’re looking for, not necessarily the hardware specs.

Drive innovative through connection. Mark shared a variety of stories how his clients are leveraging their WiFi. One restaurant chain is growing its loyalty program by requiring a loyalty account to access the WiFi, while another engages their visitors by recognizing when they return to the store and playing their favorite song. 

Listen below, or on: Apple Podcasts, Pocket CastsStitcher, Google Play, SoundCloudSpotify

Read the Transcript

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John Rougeux: Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of Marketing here at Skyfii and your host for today’s episode. Our guest for today is Mark Brackley, the Managing Director of Jade Solutions, a full-service mobility and wireless provider based in the UK. Mark’s been in the IT and wireless space for over twenty years, and today he’s going to share his advice for helping venue operators find the right Wi-Fi technology partner.

John Rougeux: Mark, great to have you on the show. Thanks for being with me today.

Mark Brackley: John, thanks for having us. I really, really appreciate you inviting us to join in.

John Rougeux: Yeah, you bet. Well Mark, I know you’ve been in the Wi-Fi and technology space for quite some time, so I’d love it if you could briefly tell us a little bit more about your background and what you’re currently focused on at Jade Solutions.

Mark Brackley: Okay. So, I’ve been around a long time. Started as an electrician, would you believe, and then it evolved into IT as structured data cabling solutions came onto market and electricians were being asked to get involved with those. That gave me a career path into IT from project management into solution selling into – we’ve moved into Wi-Fi, we thought Wi-Fi was going to replace structured cabling all those years ago. There was a worry that it might. We thought we’d better get onboard with Wi-Fi and that was probably 20 years ago. So we’ve, as a company in the UK, have been selling and deploying and managing Wi-Fi solutions for customers for 20 years now. Got lots of experience around retail, warehousing, and general Wi-Fi within the office space.

John Rougeux: Great, well I’m looking forward to diving into that experience in a little bit more depth today, but to kick things off, we’re going to hear some of your advice on how retailers and venue operators, in terms of what they should look for in a Wi-Fi technology partner. And one of the things I’ve heard you mention in the past is that there’s often a perception in this space that companies like yours just do Wi-Fi, while in reality, there’s plenty of other things beyond that where a business like yours can add value. So, can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Mark Brackley: Yeah, no problem. So the way we look at it is slightly reverse of the way you’ve described it, which you’ve described it well, but we look at it the opposite way. Why would a retailer go with a technology partner that can only design the Wi-Fi? How about the deployment, how about the management of that, how about getting some business benefit from that Wi-Fi? How many different networks do they want to run? How are they going to tunnel all the data? How’re they going to make it secure? Do they want to offer guest connectivity? How’re they going to do that? How’re they going to enhance the customer journey?

Mark Brackley: You can go off of one strand with the customer side of things, using things like your platform to help customers evolve that customer journey and work digitally with the brand ambassadors as we would call them. How do they get more out of those guys? How do they reward them for coming and spending money in their stores? On the other side, they’ve got Wi-Fi solution now, and it’s become the defacto, most important thing, to have in retail, because everything that tends to get deployed now quickly tends to be Wi-Fi, whether that’s a kiosk, whether that’s a tablet for interacting with the consumer, whether that’s even security cameras. We see all sorts of technology now connects to the Wi-Fi. [inaudible] who wants it there for a few days then they’ll move it. The quickest and easiest way to do that is obviously to do it on Wi-Fi. Payment system’s the same – this ability to work with retailers where we can work across the whole breadth of all those solutions.

Mark Brackley: I think it’s important that a retailer works with something that knows the Wi-Fi, but also the devices that connect to the Wi-Fi, then how to manage those devices that connect to the Wi-Fi. I’ll give you a great example. We had one retailer over here in the UK that didn’t tell us during the process of winning the contract – but then, not long after we’d won it, started roll out, “Oh, by the way, we want to roll out 4,000 tablets. Can you help us?” And we could, and we helped them to manage the content on those, we do a next-day swap out when they fail. Being a one-stop shop for that solution is where we try and pitch this, so it’s from design, installation, maintenance, management, the data out the back end of it, working with it that way, the guest engagement. It’s that whole piece, and then whatever they connect to that – whether it’s printers, whether it’s payment solutions, whether it’s cameras, whether it’s stock-taking devices. How do they best configure those to work on the Wi-Fi? When it goes wrong, how do we get replacements in the hands of the staff in the store?

Mark Brackley: There’s lots of people who can do some of this, but there’s not many that can do all of that. And then if you throw in – most retailers don’t have one store. The majority that we deal with have four hundred stores plus. Surely you want to work with a partner that’s got the experience to do a roll out into four or five hundred stores. That adds a different dynamic again, because there are not many companies that can actually, using their own people, do a fast-paced, multi-site roll out. So that’s where we would pitch things to our customers. You need to think about how much of this – I draw a pie, you’ve got the pie and it’s got kiosks, it’s got Wi-Fi, it’s got tablets. How much of this do you want one person to do? Do you really want to engage with five people to manage that pie?

John Rougeux: So you mentioned that customer of yours that had engaged you to manage an aspect of the Wi-Fi deployment, but then later they came to you and said, “Hey, by the way, we’ve got all these tablets we want to deploy.” Is that typical in that the perception of companies like yours is that you handle kind of a narrow band of the solution, typically around Wi-Fi, and that other pieces of that solution are either tackled by others or need to be addressed internally? Is that something that you’re having to kind of correct in the market in terms of what you can do and what you’re capable of?

Mark Brackley: It’s a little bit of all of that. You’ll find some retailers trying to do it themselves, especially around the content – they’ll find it difficult, they haven’t got the skillset or the knowledge of the tools that deliver the content and how they best do that. So they do try a little bit in-house, and then they deploy the tablets and then one breaks, and then it becomes difficult, because they’re not a maintenance company. They’re not there to do support. So it becomes difficult for them to fix a solution that’s gone wrong. Once you have that conversation with them, explain what we can do, you can see very often that light bulb comes on, they say “Oh, this makes sense.” We’ve already got the packages ready to go, obviously there’s the solution. This is what you need to look at. That becomes very important.

Mark Brackley: Then we also found it’s very important when we look at solutions like your [inaudible 00:07:56]. It’s one thing selling a license. That’s just the start of the journey. Who’s going to configure that with the Wi-Fi solution? Who’s going to design the landing pages? Who’s going to help them understand the options during the customer journey? That’s all very easily done at the beginning for the first iteration of the landing pages. What happens when it gets to deploying spring and it gets to summer. They go, “Hey, change the landing page so we’ve got more people with summer shoes on or summer clothes on.” You need to be able to offer that as a service as well, and carry on and help them to update those [inaudible] of their website, and then when they get into new marketing and doing campaigns, it becomes even more important that they go with a partner who can help them with that side of the solution as well. Not just deploying, not just selling them some licenses, but help them to manage those platforms and configure those platforms. Typically their marketing teams don’t want to do that themselves.

John Rougeux: So you guys have to invest in training or bringing on new roles to handle all these new areas that you’re able to work with your clients?

Mark Brackley: Yes, absolutely, that has been a key learning from the start, really. I made a decision when we first moved into this space about five years ago. It’s always been the view we’ve looked at. It’s one thing looking at the sale. It’s even more important to talk about the customer in the post-sale. They’ll buy today, but they bought a three-year license. How are you going to help them over the next three years? When I looked at these solutions, what I really liked was that there was some annuity for us in the revenue, because we recognized those things over the 36 months, but then what we’d also see is that what we’d also be able to do is give them the ability to get the best out of those solutions during that period of time.

Mark Brackley: When we talk to the customers, it’s obvious that the marketing teams wanted to just give you a design, and not want to configure it themselves within the platform. That became very obvious very early on that they didn’t want to do that. We made a conscious decision that we need to invest in people. We already have the project teams to deliver the projects, but what we needed to do was start to build out more technical capability on the configuration side of it in working with them to have those people on the help desk, in pre-sales, ready to help the customer configure the solutions as they wanted to. That was a definite conscious decision.

John Rougeux: I would have to imagine that’s an area where you’re able to differentiate yourselves a little bit in the market. I want to flip things around a little bit, in that vein, and ask you if someone out there is looking for a technology partner, what’s your advice for how they should go about vetting them and ultimately choosing someone to work with?

Mark Brackley: Certainly understanding what they’ve done. Certainly understanding and exploring with them the multiple facets. Don’t focus on the technology. When we go and talk about this, we really don’t focus too much on the hardware platform. It’s more what we can get out of that hardware platform. I remember one of the large contracts we were on three or four years ago, it was all done and dusted, we shook hands, we left the room. And as we left the room, the IT guy says, “Well, what access points did you say you’re putting in?” I said, “I didn’t.” He said, “Well, what are you putting in?” And I told him. He went, “Well, that’s fine.” What was more important was what they got out of the platform.

John Rougeux: Yeah, the solution, not just the specific hardware.

Mark Brackley: Yeah, what was more important was the guest engagement piece. What that was going to deliver, how that was going to work, et cetera, that was the more important piece. Not is it Aerohive, is it Meraki. It’s sort of irrelevant. It’s, can I fix it next-day? Is it enterprise-grade? Is it fit for purpose? Can it support all the different use cases? Can it do voice, can it run multiple VLANs, connect all the traffic. All those different things. Can it do all of those? And if it can, great. Actually, it’s irrelevant what the make on the badge is, as long as I can support it. Is the price right, is the service correct, and then what can I get out of this and how am I going to engage my customers? And that’s where we try to lead with the conversations.

John Rougeux: That’s a great point. So, starting with the outcome first and the use case, and then kind of backing into the technology from there.

Mark Brackley: So we start at that end, so this is what you’re going to get out of this. What are you looking to get out of this? Do you have an app? Do you want to develop an app? Are you interested in locationing, do you want to know when people move around your store? How big is the store, if it’s three access points or more? Can we help you with tracking the customers through that store? If it’s a small-format store, it doesn’t really make sense to do that. To help them understand what we can do, and get them to a point where they know what they want to order – this is what they want to deploy – and then backing that up with all the right service rep and everything else beyond that. That’s the way we come at it.

John Rougeux: So you mentioned a bunch of different technologies there and new ways of using data. Some of them are a little bit further out and some are accessible fairly easily today. Can you tell us a little more about that, in terms of what areas of technology do you think retailers are underinvesting in and should explore more at the moment?

Mark Brackley: Definitely the right Wi-Fi, because there’s Wi-Fi and then there’s Wi-Fi. There’s still a lot of Wi-Fi solutions out there that don’t have an open API infrastructure, which means you can’t get the data out. Having the right infrastructure. What’s more important is how often do I need to replace that access point, what’s the failure rate like? How easy is it to work with the manufacturer to get a replacement? How’s it got an open API infrastructure and how easy is that to connect into? More importantly, in the API infrastructure, what can I get out of that? What are the options? What data can I get out of the API? Certain manufacturers have got one or two, the data’s not great, others have got seven or eight, the data’s brilliant. So some understanding of what the customer wants is where you can deliver the functionality that they’re expecting from the hardware. Very often, the hardware they were going to buy is not what they end up buying, because when we explain to them the reason why this one’s better than that one, from a business benefits point of view, that’s the key thing.

Mark Brackley: The first thing is very often that they’re not investing in the right Wi-Fi. We see customers deploying Wi-Fi, maybe putting a guest engagement platform in, but really not using that platform. It’s more providing an old hot spot type scenario, rather than think about how do I get the marketing teams to really, really look at this, and work with this too, and drive footfall, and increase basket sizes, increase dwell time, get people back more often. We’ve got one customer that hasn’t downloaded a serious amount of emails in years from a platform. That’s crazy.

John Rougeux: Yeah, no, that is. You mentioned some of the hardware and how some of it can be restrictive in getting you data, and being able to access that, and other hardware being more supportive of that. I know you work with so many different clients, and you don’t have to mention any by name, but I’m curious if you could share a few examples of clients that are really getting a lot of value from the data that’s coming through Wi-Fi and other sources, and what they’re doing to get that value.

Mark Brackley: On one hand, we’re working with Nando’s here in the UK, that’s a really interesting story. The way they’ve integrated the authentication onto the guest Wi-Fi is based on their own in-house database for the customers. Instead of having multiple pots of customer data, they end up with one pot. Then they know when that person comes back into the store. What it does is it drives people only connecting to the Wi-Fi who really want to connect with the brand as well. That’s quite an interesting method that we’re seeing there.

Mark Brackley: We’ve got lots of people using the systems in the most normal way – they offer guest Wi-Fi, people like Pret A Manger, it’s got a high dwell time, it’s a coffee shop where people go for destination because there is good Wi-Fi. We see them looking at the data, making decisions on the data we’ve given them. They’ve realized that, in some instances, there’s more footfall there than they’ve realized, there’s more opportunity for window conversion than they thought.

Mark Brackley: They’ve also, typically, decided the size of the internet connection based on revenue, which didn’t tell them, and what we’ve been able to tell them is, okay, the revenue might not be high in this store, but you’ve got a hundred people connected to the Wi-Fi. You can’t do that on that small pipe. The experience for those hundred people’s going to be relatively poor. What we try and do is use the data to explain how they can then improve the service which they have done. They’ve looked at it, they’ve seen a hundred people connected here, revenue means [inaudible] cell circuit, and then they’ll upgrade it to an FTTT. And again, you might look and then, oh great, it’s something else after that. We’re seeing them use it in that way as well.

Mark Brackley: And we’re starting to see lots of people now are getting real interested in Bluetooth technology in location, and real narrow location. Nut no one’s interested in deploying beacons with batteries. That’s clear as well.

John Rougeux: So what’s an example of how someone would use Bluetooth but without beacons and still find value from that?

Mark Brackley: So, we’re working with one vendor at the minute where we can just overlay Bluetooth into an access point. It’s new, we’re looking at it, it looks very interesting, it can help with real locationing as well. It’s just like [inaudible] a Bluetooth access point that gives really good coverage and triangulation from one access point on Bluetooth. It seems to be a really, really interesting way of helping customers to easily deploy technologies and overlay on top of the Wi-Fi that gives them even more granular information. Then we’ll look to integrate that into platforms like your own.

Mark Brackley: We’ve also done some integration with guest Wi-Fi onto a music system – the biggest in the UK, online, cloud-based music depository. As you register, you can suggest your favorite track or your favorite artist, and then we’ll take that up and play that in the music in the store, or when you come back into the store we’ll play that for you.

John Rougeux: Very cool.

Mark Brackley: It’s great. Because again, you know who’s going to come in, you’re just tying in that register data. It’s another reason for them to register, because they get to pick the music track. All these different things can drive interaction with the customers, without them realizing too much that they’re being tracked [inaudible 00:20:27]. There’s some really cool use cases out there.

Mark Brackley: One of the biggest things we still see is people going, and it’s amazing, we still find retailers with five, six, seven hundred stores, that do not have Wi-Fi. It’s amazing. They just do not have Wi-Fi for stock-taking, goods in, or anything.

John Rougeux: Yeah. That’s a surprised. You know, I think what’s so interesting about those examples you mentioned, with Nando’s and their ability to recognize guests when they return, and you mentioned Pret A Manger and how they are better able to build out their network to make sure people are able to connect, and then you talked about this experience where you can come into a store and it recognizes what kind you music you listened to in the past and it picks up where you left off. I think, what all those examples have in common, is that the Wi-Fi and other technologies are used to create a better guest experience. So, in other words, it’s not just an amenity, it’s not just something that should be seen as a cost center that you should do for as cheaply as possible. These are ways customers are actually having a better experience in the store based on the technology that groups like yours are providing.

Mark Brackley: Exactly. And what we’re seeing and what we’ll soon launch by ourselves in the UK very soon is taking that one step further with audio-visual solutions as well as linking a known person in the store with, maybe a bit frightening to personal messaging, but actually that is possible, but more, we know this person was looking online at this type of technology, or this type of – they were looking at trousers, or they were looking at suits, or whatever it is – and then displaying that as a reminder, that it’s on offer or it’s on the third floor or send them a voucher as they move through the store. So we’re seeing a lot of interest in that moving forward.

Mark Brackley: It’s taken a while, you know, five or six years we’ve been doing this, and it’s really only now we’re starting to see customers really start to see how they can use the technology correctly to drive that customer engagement level up.

John Rougeux: Sure. So, we might have to catch up with you in a year or two to see things are progressing, because it sounds like there’s a lot that’s changing out there.

Mark Brackley: It is. It’s really interesting right now, Johnny. A year ago, it was hard at times, to get them to think outside the box. But they seem to be getting their hands on it now. One of the biggest problems we find is that [inaudible] retailers is that the problem’s the backend systems are their own. They’ve got multiple CRM systems, they don’t know which one to interact with. They’re not really thinking of how they will engage the customers in the store and what they would do. Then we talk to them about the data and all they can bring out. They go, “That’s great, but I’ve got no way of distributing that to my staff.” Some of them have got big infrastructure problems of their own, or they’re old past solutions haven’t got an API, they can’t take anything in or out. It’s like they’ve got all the problems to fix and they’re missing the trick that actually could get some early gains with the guest Wi-Fi.

John Rougeux: Right. Well, it sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you, and I really appreciate all the advice that you’ve shared today, Mark. Lots of good tips on selecting the right technology partner and making better use of technology. I’m curious if you have any resources you’d recommend for anyone who wants to stay up to date with how technology is impacting the retail space?

Mark Brackley: Our website’s great for that, we keep stuff on there. A lot of it is probably in my head, so if anybody wants to contact me, I’m more than happy to give them some advice on who to talk to or what to look for, it’s not a problem at all.

John Rougeux: Sounds good. What’s the best way for listeners to get in touch with you?

Mark Brackley: They can email me at mbrackley@jadesolutions.co.uk, or they can look me up on LinkedIn. I’m more than happy to link in with anybody on there that reaches out.

John Rougeux: Sounds good. Mark, thanks so much for being with us today. It was great having you.

Mark Brackley: No problem. Thanks, John.

John Rougeux: All right, take care.

John Rougeux: All right, thanks for listening to People in Places. If you like what you heard, you’d be doing our team at Skyfii a huge favor by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts. To get notified of new episodes, just follow Skyfii on LinkedIn, or subscribe to our newsletter at Skyfii.com. That’s S-K-Y-F-I-I dot com.

John Rougeux: Okay, well, that’s it for today’s episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux with Skyfii, thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: podcast@skyfii.com. See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. You can contact Mark via email at mbrackley[at]jade-solutions.co.uk.
  2. To learn more about Jade Solutions, head to their website.
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