The start of 2013 hasn’t been easy for retail with Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster going into administration.

Their fall from grace should send out a warning signal to all corners of retail - grocery included. There is a raging battle to win customers from rival stores. Retailers should be thinking about what they can do to enhance the retail experience and attract new customers.

One way to do this is by offering WiFi. High-street retail outlets including WH Smith and Maplin have already seen the benefit of introducing free WiFi. But now we are beginning to see supermarkets making this same move. Rather than seeing the internet as a competitor, they are starting to view it as an opportunity.

And it is. WiFi has several innate advantages. Because it’s faster and more reliable than 3G, WiFi improves the overall customer experience and over time can attract more people in and build their loyalty.

If shoppers want to research before they buy, then providing them with an efficient means to do this can only improve their view of the store. And unlike 3G, WiFi also requires customers to log in through a venue-branded landing page. This presents a major opportunity for retailers to provide special offers and tailored marketing.

Messages can be altered to reflect the customer’s location, time of day, or the device they’re using - all of which lets retailers market more effectively than traditional methods. WiFi data can also be used together with loyalty card data, allowing retailers to better target customers with offers and new product suggestions.

In effect, it offers a genuine merger of bricks and clicks at point of sale, offering additional customer insight in a multichannel world. Embracing free in-store WiFi can also positively impact the very thing that keeps people coming back to a physical store. No matter how popular and convenient online is, it cannot compete with in-store when it comes to customer service and human interaction. The supermarkets won’t harm themselves by embracing WiFi, they’ll harm themselves by shunning it.

Vince Russell is managing director of The Cloud