Sam’s Club’s Wi-Fi Effort A Dangerous–Although Inevitable–Move

Written by Evan Schuman
August 12th, 2010

When Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club announced Tuesday (August 10) that it planned to have all of its U.S. locations support Wi-Fi for customers by November 2010, it was just the latest in a long line of retail conversions to consumer Wi-Fi. Such moves, although designed to improve the customer experience in-store, have the potential for actually causing the opposite impact.

Sam’s Club is touting its Wi-Fi for an unusual purpose: TV sales. The move will allow its customers “greater use of their Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones while shopping and enable associates to demo new IPTVs (Internet TVs). Sam’s Club is the first warehouse club to offer live IPTV demos and carry a 1080p broadcast signal. Sam’s Club expects to showcase 3D TVs in all locations and online next month,” Sam’s Club said in a statement.

But if Wi-Fi becomes popular, its in-store speeds could quickly slow to 9,600-baud analog modem level.

Indeed, if Wi-Fi becomes popular, it could quickly become very unpopular. Customers will be annoyed because their smartphones won’t work well. And Wal-Mart won’t be happy because none of those annoyed customers will buy an IPTV that looks lousy when it’s demonstrated.

The security issues–as Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud reminds us this week with his tale of the Secret Service agent, Wi-Fi and the unhappy restaurant chain–are always a factor with wireless. In this case, though, it’s a matter of encouraging consumers to hop on a wireless LAN with other consumers, with virtually no protection from each other. Inviting consumers onto your network psychologically–and potentially legally–means that you’ll be blamed for whatever happens to them while they’re online.

There’s even the unfair blame, such as when consumers pick up a virus on their smartphones and decide to blame your chain’s Wi-Fi. It’s even more frustrating because such a charge is almost impossible to disprove.


One Comment | Read Sam’s Club’s Wi-Fi Effort A Dangerous–Although Inevitable–Move

  1. Richard Nedwich Says:

    Great article. Reminded me of Steve Jobs at the iPhone4 launch asking the audience to turn off their WiFi devices so his demo could work!

    This scenario could play out at Sam’s Club if they are not careful. Although traditional WLAN solutions are inherently risky this way, there is at least one other way – using a Virtualized WLAN – which can provide a private SSID for the demo and a public SSID for the shoppers. This approach also allows for ‘channel layers’ that adds capacity by adding an AP on a separate RF channel. Capacity of 500 devices in 500 square feet has been achieved this way, and perhaps useful for retail demonstrations.


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