If you want to draw new customers and repeat buyers to your small business, offer them free WI-FI and heavily promote the perk. New and repeat customers are just two of the rewards entrepreneurs and IT decision-makers say they have reaped by making WI-FI a free amenity, according to results from the Small Business WI-FI Survey (#SMBWiFi) conducted by Bredin for Comcast Business.

Free WI-FI also works better than typical conveniences like candy, water or magazines, at keeping customers happy when they have a wait time at your business.

Perhaps most importantly, more than half of the businesses surveyed said that offering free WI-FI to customers resulted in higher sales per customer visit. For any brick and mortar business this is the holy grail of sales strategy because it costs six to seven times more in marketing and promotion to acquire new customers compared to continued and increased sales from existing customers.

Plus, the cost of offering free WI-FI to customers is tiny compared to practically any other marketing effort. In my area, WI-FI that supports dozens of high volume users costs about $140 per month, and a one-time purchase of a quality router is about $180. Whereas the cost to advertise in my local newspaper in a way that would genuinely attract new customers would cost three to four times more, and that's just for one publication, not a coordinated campaign.

“Main Street businesses and entrepreneurs of all types recognize that wireless Internet access is a must for their patrons, and that providing free Wi-Fi can give them a competitive edge,” said Bill Stemper, president, Comcast Business. “More and more, we are seeing that if a business provides Wi-Fi now to its employees for business purposes, extending access to its customers is a logical next step that is a way to keep them coming back in the future. Given the challenges that small businesses face in today’s uncertain economy, we are encouraged that technologies like Wi-Fi will help sustain growth.”

You can learn more about the Small Business Wi-Fi Survey from the Comcast corporate site. Here are the key findings:

  • Wi-Fi is better than candy. Main Street business owners say Wi-Fi is equally or more effective at making patrons feel welcome than other amenities such as magazines (94%), community bulletin boards (91%), candy (90%) or water (86%).
  • Wi-Fi helps draw customers. Nearly eight in 10 businesses offering Wi-Fi (79%) say it helps keep customers happy while they wait. 65% report it has encouraged repeat business, and 55% say it has brought in new customers.
  • Wi-Fi helps sales. More than half (55%) of businesses providing Wi-Fi believe it has resulted in higher sales per customer visit.
  • Promoting Wi-Fi is key. Those businesses that expected increased revenues in 2013 are more likely to promote the Wi-Fi they offer (64% vs. 38% of businesses that expected decreased revenues). In turn, customers are more likely to promote these businesses through their social media channels.
  • Non-users have concerns. Fears of tech support (33%), employee distraction (33%) and costs (32%) are reasons cited for not offering Wi-Fi to patrons.
  • Non-users see advantages. Many respondents recognize the benefits of offering Wi-Fi, including raising their company profile (41%) and keeping up with the competition (38%). Of those Main Street businesses that currently don’t offer Wi-Fi to patrons, 61% plan to offer it soon or would consider providing it.
  • Wi-Fi builds connections. Nearly 20% of the business owners surveyed promote themselves as “community hubs,” such as a meeting place for church groups, sports clubs or other community groups.
  • Businesses with Wi-Fi expect growth. 67% of businesses that offer Wi-Fi to their customers expect revenue growth. Of the businesses that don’t offer Wi-Fi, only 50% expect growth.
  • Businesses with Wi-Fi boost productivity. Separate from offering Wi-Fi to patrons, respondents’ employees use Wi-Fi for business purposes such as accessing corporate resources (49%), tracking inventory (36%) and holding conferences with business partners and customers (35%). 93% of these businesses believe that Wi-Fi enhances productivity. Companies with growing revenue were more likely than non-growing companies to use Wi-Fi as a customer amenity.

The Small Business Wi-Fi Survey was conducted online among a representative sample of 602 principals and IT decision makers at companies with 1 to 100 employees in the United States between Dec. 18 and Dec. 31, 2013. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.

Do you offer free WI-FI to your customers? Please share with us why or why not in the comments section.