Mobile has done a lot to change retail, including consumer activities inside a brick-and-mortar location. Most pertinently, indoor positioning has been gaining traction. Indoor positioning systems aren’t new to retail, but they aren’t always effective, either. That’s because traditionally, they tend to rely on technology like Bluetooth beacons, which depend on a clear, uninterrupted signal between itself and the person’s mobile device — which also needs to have its Bluetooth turned on — in order to have a completely accurate position. Many times, they can only be accurate to around three feet, or one meter.
However, a new technology is set to change all that: VLC, or visual light communication, colloquially “smart lights.”
What Are Smart Lights?
Quite simply, smart lights use the LED bulbs installed on normal store lighting to send and receive data from customers’ smartphones. That’s the short answer, but the answer to “How do smart lights work?” is a little bit more complicated.
LED lights flicker, although at a rate imperceptible to the human eye. That flickering can be utilized to communicate data, and unlike Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, it doesn’t require a receiver to be turned on. It simply needs exposure to the photodiodes that already exist within your phone’s brightness sensors. Since most customers shop with their phone in hand to compare prices or check digital lists, accessibility won’t be an issue. However, the indoor positioning system will need to be connected to a branded app in order to access the complete benefits of this new system.
Will It Actually Work in the Real World?
Believe it or not VLC indoor positioning systems are already in use. Phillips Lighting partnered with Europe’s largest retailer, Carrefour, to roll out a complete indoor positioning system at the location in Lille, France. That makes Phillips a leader in this market right now, but it’s certainly not the only one on the market. Acuity has partnered with eldoLED to introduce its new ByteLight offering, which also takes advantage of BLE technology from the technology of Qualcomm Atheros. Similarly, GE has partnered with Qualcomm Atheros to do much of the same. In the US, Target has announced it will be putting an indoor positioning system in place, and while the brand didn’t release details about its technical details, it’s strongly believed that the system will be VLC based.
What Does This Mean for Retail?
The fact that this is a powerful new tool is reflected in the fact that ABI Research included Phillips’ new system among its top ten in its most recent innovations study. That’s because in most cases, retailers are already moving toward switching to LEDs, the key component to VLC. This cuts down on the cost to implement, and means there aren’t extra charges for maintenance or power. What’s more, smart lights in stores will be significantly more accurate than other technologies — between 8 and 12 inches — and it’ll be operating literally at the speed of light. The data retailers can gather about customers will be significantly more contextual and help better identify intent to buy, plus notifications for offers or other information will be much more accurately personalized and timely as they’re pushed to customers.
Now that you can answer the question, “what are smart lights?” it should be clear why smart lights in stores represents a meteoric change in the way that retailers can relate to and engage with its customers. VLC is definitely one technology that you need to watch and start making room in your budget for.