Not just WiFi - this is M&S WiFi

POSTED BY Global Administrator
Two of Britain’s most august institutions have just announced that they will be joining the WiFi revolution. First up is Marks & Spencer, or M&S to its friends: the company confirmed this week that  it will be rolling out free WiFi hotspots in all its UK retail outlets by May next year, following an initial launch in its flagship store in Cheshire Oaks. Not to be outdown, Lord’s Cricket Ground has today unveiled The Cloud as its technology partner as it introduces broadband to the home of cricket. Let’s take these in reverse order. I have only watched a single day’s play at Lord’s, more than nine years ago, but I know my cricket – if you’re not careful, I’ll recite the  England team that turned out at Headingley in 1981 from memory, in batting order no less, and without recourse to  Cricinfo or Wisden – and I like to think I know my cricket watchers, too. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it can go on for a very long time. Days on end. There are dramatic moments, but the drama ebbs and flows: and in those moments when the game becomes becalmed (in times gone by, such moments were personified by partnerships between Geoff Boycott and Chris Tavare) the watcher would supplement the cricket by reading a book, a newspaper or even tuning in to the commentary on a portable radio. These days, the public has grown accustomed to other delights. When sitting down for an extended period – say, two minutes or longer – they grow restive unless they can reach for their mobile or nomadic device, thereon to browse the Internet, tweet, blog, place a bet or even do the odd spot of work. At Lord’s, they have grasped that those watching the cricket increasingly need the diversions offered by multi-tasking; that the live experience needs to emulate that at home, although with the additional exciting possibility that you could be soaked to the skin in seconds. Furthermore, the deal makes sense for Sky, the owner of The Cloud, as it solidifies the already strong relationship it has with English cricket as broadcast rights holder for international matches. For M&S, the introduction of WiFi serves a rather different purpose: rather, it allows the retailer to marry its physical and digital presences, leveraging both simultaneously in a bid to increase customer engagement. Innovations include  QR codes – providing links to further information on in-store product lines, including customer reviews – together with the ‘Virtual Makeover' counter and ‘Duvet and Pillow Selector' that “help customers choose a look for an item that suits their personal requirements”. Does the consumer want this? Let me rephrase that – even if he wants it, will his four children allow him to use it, as they follow mutinously in his wake while he tries to track down the last remaining jar of Terribly Clever Fire Roasted Tomato & Rosemary Tray Bake (For Sausages)? Probably not, since they’re all up in arms because their eighty-ninth viewing of Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 has been interrupted so Daddy can go to a shop – and it’s not even a toy shop. Fortunately for M&S, there is no single paradigm for the consumer, not even the M&S consumer: a good many that pass through its doors will be unencumbered by multiple offspring kicking off with attitude, and so will be able to savour the joys of in-store browsing without simultaneously having to threaten one or more small persons with the naughty step. More: they are to be aided by “customer assistants equipped with iPads who can help [them] find items or help place orders”. Or, as the case may be, shake their heads sadly and tell you that the last jar of Terribly Clever appears to have gone, because look, it’s in the basket of that balding man with the glasses and the four child civil war snapping at his heels…