Dutch electronics specialist Philips is installing connected LED lighting at some stores, the aim being to interact more with customers on the basis of their whereabouts in the shop. No structural investment is required because the sensors, which interact with the customer’s smartphone, are embedded in the lights.

Retail: ‘Connected’ Lighting to Help Store Customers Shop

Out of the three technologies which currently make ‘indoor positioning’ possible, Philips has opted for the easiest one to install and operate. In contrast to WiFi and beacon systems, the Philips system of smart lighting – known as Light Fidelity, or ‘li-fi’ for short – has the advantage of not needing any dedicated hubs. This is why Philips R&D has been researching into li-fi since 1996, explains Philips Marketing Manager Christophe Bresson. The advantage of LED for inter-device communications is that it not only uses less energy, but also makes hacking more difficult than, for example, when using bluetooth. However, it was not until early this year that smartphones with sufficiently powerful optical sensors – i.e. their cameras – appeared, which are able to decrypt the technology’s light frequencies. The LEDs geolocate smartphones by means of triangulation, to a degree of precision of about a centimetre. “Then it’s up to the store to develop its own tools to communicate its offerings and product range to its customers,” stresses Christophe Bresson.

Connected shopping assistant

How it works is that customers download on to their smartphones an app that links up with the LEDs positioned throughout the store. Once the system has pinpointed a customer, s/he can be handheld through the store in a bid to provide him/her with a better overall experience.  Options include sending notifications to customers’ smartphones with promotional offers or cross-selling suggestions in line with their whereabouts in the store and, for example, their known or suspected culinary tastes. Explains Christophe Bresson: “In the long term, a customer could be guided towards a particular type of wine which would go well with the cheese s/he has just put into his/her shopping basket.” Moreover, food stores stand to gain extra credibility with their customers if they can provide more information on their products, for people suffering from allergies for instance. The smart LEDs could also help staff to decide how to set up goods displays on the store shelves.

Consumers crave a richer shopping experience

So far there have been only pilot programmes in the Netherlands where the smart LEDs are being integrated into the overall strategy of developing customer loyalty. To underline the value of its technology, Philips points to marketing studies demonstrating that more and more customers now look on the Internet before purchasing – “not so much to make a clear-cut price comparison as to obtain extra information.” It seems clear that many customers are no longer keen on the traditional store layout, which forces them to run back and forth and gives the impression that the store managers are playing tricks designed to fill up their shopping baskets. The Philips LED system allows customer to interact with the store and, if they so wish, to keep their shopping time to a minimum. “Longer term, the customer will enjoy a richer, finer-tuned experience and smart lighting will play a major role in this,” predicts Bresson. The showrooming trend – the elegant display of goods in a store which then leads the customer to purchase online – is already with us. Li-fi technology, with the information it provides to customers, looks certain to enhance the shopping experience, provided that stores are able to segment customer profiles to a sufficient degree.

By Simon Guigue