By Marcus Leach

Small business owners are missing out on millions of potential customers, and millions of pounds of potential revenue, because of a failure to offer wireless internet access in their premises.

That’s according to the findings of new research from The Cloud, the public access WiFi provider.

Nearly six in ten small business owners (59%) surveyed said they don’t offer WiFi, and 44% said they have no plans to do so, despite demand from customers.

The Cloud, a BskyB company, commissioned the survey of over 2,000 consumers and 200 small business owners — including café owners, hoteliers and hairdressers — to gauge public appetite for WiFi and see how small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) were responding to this demand.

Coffee shops prove a case in point. One in ten consumers — equivalent to 4.5m people — said they typically go to big-brand coffee shops over smaller or independent ones because the big brands offer WiFi. This rose to almost one in five consumers (19%) in London.

One in four Londoners (25%) and the same number of 18-34 year olds nationally (25%) said that the availability of WiFi was a factor in which coffee shop they chose to go to.

The research also found that WiFi is increasingly thought of as a standard facility, with over one in five people (21%) saying they now expect free WiFi to be available in any coffee shop they visit. Nearly one in three people polled (30%) said they think smaller or independent coffee shops are missing out on customers by not offering WiFi.

Meanwhile almost one in five small business owners (18%) admitted they have given out their personal WiFi details in the past so that customers can access the internet on their premises. This could potentially put the small business’ internet security at risk as well as straining personal connections never designed for public use.

Of the 45% of small business owners who said they had been asked for WiFi on their premises, well over half (61%) said they had been asked “often or very often”.

“Every company has to focus obsessively on catering to customers’ demands, but this is especially true of small businesses which are under pressure as never before," Vince Russell, managing director at The Cloud, said.

"In recent years the public has come to expect that they’ll be able to get fast, reliable WiFi access wherever they are, and our research suggests that many smaller businesses are missing out on custom and revenue because they aren’t delivering what these customers expect."

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