Even though your stores might have been able to get along just fine without it 20 years ago, internet access is an absolute need for the retail business of today and tomorrow. You will require it for sales in many cases, social media access and updates, various types of online ordering, online tracking of sales metrics, emails and various other standard business communications, and much more, depending on the products and services you provide shoppers.
Yet finding the right service can be difficult. Even if you don’t consider some of the near-monopolies over internet service taking place in many regions across the United States, there are a variety of contracts to navigate, numbers that might or might not be fudged, and questions of service reliability that need to be answered.
While going into the technical details of ISPs (internet service providers) might be a task best left to your own searching, I want to kickstart your search by having you ask yourself the following questions about your business:
What Does Your Location Offer?
The main question, and perhaps the most unfortunate one seeing as it will mostly be outside of your control, is what services are available in your area, and at what cost to your business? A quick search can get you started, and from there you can investigate the details, ruling out unacceptable providers. We recommend you keep a notepad handy for this step and don’t be afraid to check online reviews as well.
What Kind of Speed Do You Need?
Will your store and business in the course of a normal day need to upload videos or download large amounts of information? Do you have a lot of sales associates and employees that might use the internet at once? Do your programs require a large and constant connection?
I wish I could just give you a number and call it a day, but what you need will widely vary based on the above factors. I can confidently say you should try to find a plan that offers as an absolute minimum 100Mbps. Otherwise, you will likely run into problems.
Which Providers Are Reliable?
On a very similar note, you are going to want to find an ISP that knows how to keep its connection maintained and without issue. Speed is one thing, but if you and your employees are worried if a sale won’t log into the system because the connection skipped a beat, then it won’t mean much in the moment.
To find a reliable provider, reviews are certainly your best friend, as well as reports and comments people will leave online about reliability. Note that generally it’s only the dissatisfied leaving comments, so you’ll want to have some grains of salt handy, but try to look for trends or specific problems that keep coming up. Don’t necessarily trust ISP copy itself, as every provider will say they’re reliable.
Keeping with the theme, you’ll also want to check reviews about how well customer service works with businesses, because eventually a problem will come up and you will want to make sure that you will be able to get everything back to normal as quickly as possible in order to avoid inconvenience for your associates and potentially your shoppers.
Do You Want to Provide Wi-Fi to Customers?
Depending on your retail outlet, providing free Wi-Fi to customers is a great way to show your customers you care about their comfort and convenience. Keeping people connected and able to look up if the product you’re selling is the right one for them will generally help your business in the long run, helping to make sure customers get just what they want (and coming back). Additionally, some retail buildings have poor reception for cell service, making it difficult for customers to contact friends and family to propose a purchase for them.
If you do desire to provide guest Wi-Fi, then you’ll want to be able to provide quite a bit more bandwidth and you’ll want the ability to create a separate network for your customers to use while the store’s main network is under lock and key (hackers will certainly try to exploit your Wi-Fi if you give them the opportunity, leading to data theft and possible fraud in the future). Make sure you find a provider that is compatible with these goals.
Do They Offer Business Options and Discounts?
A business plan, unless you are a very small retail business, will be essential when you are looking for the right ISP. They generally will offer you better rates and plans, more tailored to the needs described above. Of course, you will want to ensure a proposed business plan isn’t the same as a home plan only with a bumped up price, in which case you would have wanted to avoid the provider in the first place.
Once you determine the realistic options, work through them and their costs to make the right decision for your business.
This should be everything you need to get started on finding the right ISP for your retail business. It’s an important point, as you do not want to have bad service cause interruptions of sales or regular business activity. Consider it the water flow of information and connectivity that drives business today.
I hope this article provided you with the information you needed, but I would also like to hear your thoughts on the matter. What do you look for when researching ISPs? What was your experience like? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
About the writer: Kevin Conner is the founder and CEO of Vast Bridges, a customer acquisition and lead generation service. His passion, and the mission of the company, is to help companies develop and implement a strategic vision, with the ultimate goal being to grow. His years working with Vast Bridges has exposed him to many different approaches to growth, and he likes to share these experiences by writing for business blogs and online forums whenever he can.
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