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LEDs: The Next Frontier


“Couldn’t find it” and “couldn’t find help,” are all-too-common shopping experiences that kill sales and erode shopper loyalty. Retailers are seeking better ways to combat these in-store ills, and new indoor positioning and wayfinding solutions have emerged as powerful tools to engage and assist in-store customers, at the precise point-of-purchase decision — the aisle and shelf.

In-store positioning is similar to the global positioning system (GPS) technology that many people depend on while driving. New technologies tailored to indoor environments have evolved that use fixed location transmitters or beacons, a mobile device, digital indoor maps, and a loyalty app to provide location and navigation within the store. Opus Research predicts that by 2018, roughly $10 billion in consumer spending will be influenced by indoor location.

The beacon technology that drives indoor positioning enables high-precision indoor location of people and products. Among the beacon technologies being trialed, one platform has emerged as the clear winner in terms of accuracy, coverage and, most importantly, low cost of deployment and maintenance: LED-based beacons.

The best-performing LED-based indoor positioning solutions marry two complementary technologies: visual light communications and Bluetooth low energy.
Visual light communications provides precision unmatched by other beacon technologies. The pinpoint accuracy it delivers is paramount, since other beacons are not as reliable and can only locate to within several feet — not much help if a shopper is looking for a small item in a vast, densely packed grocery store aisle.

Also, visual light communications works quickly to initially locate a shopper (or product). Its low latency means a person or item can be positioned within 1/10 of a second, and that position is updated as often as five times per second.

Visual light communications has one drawback: It works as long as the customer has his or her mobile device out and in active use — the accuracy diminishes if the device is out of sight in a pocket or purse. Bluetooth low energy complements VLC, providing accurate location for out-of-sight devices.

This innovative approach using LED lighting systems provides significant advantages, including:

• Uses existing lighting infrastructure rather than requiring additional equipment like stand-alone beacons, bringing faster ROI to LED deployments;

• Determines the precise location and direction of opt-in shoppers anywhere there is light, with accuracy within inches;

• Reaches every connected shopper who has a mobile device equipped with a camera and/or Bluetooth low energy technology; and

• Reduces maintenance costs by being battery-free, since the Bluetooth low energy radio is powered by the light fixture.

Indoor positioning services provide a strategic platform for the connected retail store of the future — with significant benefits for both shoppers and retailers.

Taking a comprehensive, hybrid approach to indoor positioning that leverages LED lighting and the two best-performing indoor location-based services — visual light communications and Bluetooth low energy — enable retailers to quickly find, engage and satisfy shoppers with the highest accuracy across the largest store area. Higher sales, greater customer satisfaction, operational efficiencies and stronger ROI on lighting assets make LED-based indoor positioning a winning proposition all around.

Steve Lydecker is senior VP applied integrated solutions for Acuity Brands, a provider of lighting solutions and components for indoor and outdoor applications.

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