You want Wi-Fi access with that burger and fries?

Filed under: Retail |

The Golden Arches are leading the way in the wireless fast-food revolution.

Patrons of McDonald’s can now check their e-mail for $2.95 (for two hours of service) as part of a partnership between the fast-food giant and Wayport, a supplier of wireless Internet access. Those with Wayport and AT&T Wi-Fi memberships also have access.

McDonald’s hosts about 17 percent of the nearly 41,000 Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide, and two of the five McDonald’s restaurants in Colorado Springs offer Wi-Fi, according to mcdonalds.com.

The advantages of having Internet connectivity in the restaurants also extends to employees and managers.

Wi-Fi offers increased opportunities for online training and better communication between franchisees and the parent corporation, and to effectively process credit cards, debit cards and other cashless options like the restaurant-specific Arch Card gift card.

In order to connect, customers must have — in addition to a Wi-Fi enabled device — a credit card, pre-paid card, promotional coupon or roaming partner membership.

More electronic makers opening retail stores

Unlike Apple Computer, retail newcomers Nokia, Pioneer and Garmin are opening stores to build their consumer brand and showcase their high-end products — not to boost their sales.

Pioneer opened its first U.S. retail store in Costa Mesa, Calif., in August. It features flat-panel plasma HDTV sets and audio gear. The company plans to test how consumers respond to products in Japan before marketing them here.

Garmin, which makes global positioning system devices, is scheduled to open its first retail store in Chicago in November.

Nokia unveiled its first U.S. retail store in Chicago in June. It plans to open a second store in New York City.

The cell phone maker plans to have 18 retail outlets worldwide, four in the United States.

Using retail stores to drive revenue growth has been risky, analysts say.

PC maker Gateway closed its 188 retail stores in 2004. It still sells PCs through retail chain stores.

While staying away from the idea of free-standing stores, Dell, which made its name as a direct seller of products over the Web or telephone, is expanding its retail kiosk program. The company has opened more than 175 kiosks in U.S. shopping malls and airports.

Apple opened its first retail store in 2001 and has about 120 stores. Thanks largely to the success of its iPod music player, Apple acquires more than 15 percent of its revenue from its retail outlets.

Stores stock early for holiday season

For some major retailers, the snow is already starting to fall.

More than 21 percent of consumers do some Christmas shopping before the end of September, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

Still, not everyone thinks Christmas in September is a cheerful idea.

“It creates a disconnect with the consumer,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group. “The consumer wants to buy now and wear now, but the retailer wants to sell six months in advance.”

Among those joining the early season rush are discount retailer Costco, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney.

Costco has 45 holiday-pegged toys on display and has holiday decorations, lighting and gift-wrap packs for sale at nearly all of its 358 stores, said Richard Galanti, chief financial officer.

“We don’t want to be stuck with things the week before Christmas,” he said, “so we bring them in early and get them out early.”

J.C. Penney has no holiday-specific merchandise on the floor yet, but last week it began distributing 8 million copies of its Christmas 2006 Big Gift Book. About 5 million will be mailed and 3 million more will be handed out at stores.

U.S. chain store sales rise in August

Back-to-school shoppers rolled into warehouse clubs and discount stores in August, helping drive a 2.9 percent gain in same-store sales for U.S. chain stores for the month, according to International Council of Shopping Center’s index.

Wholesale clubs such as Sam’s posted the biggest gains, up 5.2 percent on average. Wal-Mart stores posted a 2.7 percent increase.

Discounters rose 2.7 percent as a category, with Costco’s 7 percent gain leading the pack.

Department stores posted a smaller-than-expected gain of 2.6 percent, the sector’s poorest showing since May, said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC’s chief economist and director of research.

Specialty apparel retailers saw same-store sales edge up 0.8 percent, although individual results varied greatly within the category.

American Eagle Outfitters, for example, posted an 11 percent gain, while Gap Inc. suffered a 7 percent decline.

Drugstore sales were not included in the August tally because of the reporting dates of those companies. For September, Niemira said he expects same-store sales will increase between 3 percent and 3.5 percent.

Joan Johnson covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.