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Facebook tests offering free Wi-Fi with merchant check-ins

The check-in service, if expanded, could be a good way for Facebook to gain valuable information about users. While the news comes as the number of merchants looking to offer Wi-Fi is growing, the interest in check-ins is not what it once was.

“Whether it makes sense to require a consumer to check-in on Facebook is questionable,” said David Staas, interim CEO of JiWire, San Francisco. “The obvious benefit to the merchant is that more people check-in and therefore show their friends where they are shopping.

“It helps promote that retailer across the shopper’s personal social network” he said. “However, that is only valuable if that works as effective marketing.

“There has been plenty of doubt about the effectiveness of the check-in and even the “Like” as a marketing tool, and most check-in platforms are now evolving away from the check-in as the primary value they offer.”

A hot spot
The social network is reportedly testing the service with a few local businesses. Customers at these merchants who check-in on Facebook will be able to surf the Internet for free.

Facebook is supporting the Wi-Fi hotspot service by providing local businesses with a router that directs customers to a business’ Facebook page after checking in. There is also a deals component with some stores providing special offers once customers check-in.

Customers who do not want to check-in Facebook or who do not have a Facebook account will be able to access Wi-Fi by entering a password provided by the business.

While the service could help local merchants promote their businesses it is unclear if that will be enough of an enticement for them to want to share data about their customers with Facebook.

In-store connections
Free Wi-Fi can be found in a growing number of retail locations these days.

For example, Kohl’s recently said it will offer free Wi-Fi in all of its stores in time for the holiday season shopping. The new program will also include a foursquare check-in promotion (see story).

A recent report from JiWire found that 85 percent of on-the-go shoppers use their mobile device while in a store. Additionally, the report found that 81.3 percent of public Wi-Fi is from free hotspots in the United States, a 19 percent increase from the last quarter, and that smartphones represent 40 percent of public Wi-Fi use while tablets represent 16 percent.

“In-store Wi-Fi is a great strategy for merchants,” Mr. Staas said. “The predominance of free Wi-Fi is driven by the fact that retailers, merchants, airports, hotels and cafes all know it is a valuable offering to their consumers and helps bring them into their stores or locations.

“As more merchants offer in-store WiFi, not only can they add value to their customers’ shopping experience, it can be a useful platform for promoting deals, specials, loyalty programs and other offerings to help further enhance the shopping experience,” he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York