GE’s Plans To Light Up The Retail Experience

If someone was to ask a retail executive what the next big thing in connecting with consumers was, a lightbulb probably wouldn’t be the first product that came to mind.

Technology like Bluetooth, beacons, apps and interactive advertisements would probably top the list of ways to connect to consumers. Lightbulbs would probably fall somewhere close to last on the list. But a collaborative project between GE Lighting and Qualcomm Atheros (a subsidiary of Qualcomm Incorporated), might just be the next big disruptor in the retail space when it comes to connecting with the hyper-connected consumer.

Through the use of indoor positioning technology, which is embedded in GE’s commercial LED bulbs, retailers will soon have the ability to use shoppers’ locations in the store, combine it with a mobile app, and help guide the customer through their in-store experience. The LED bulb technology, as it’s explained in the company’s news release on the partnership, uses pulse patterns to communicate with shoppers’ smartphones and tablets. Through the Visible Light Communication, GE’s LED fixtures will transmit a code in the light; this code then “talks” to a smartphone. Meanwhile, sensors and video provide analytical data, which is recorded for the retailer.

And that’s where the retail experience begins — from both the retailer and consumer perspective. Retailers get the data they need to better serve their customers and customers are part of a retail strategy without even realizing so. The new tech lets retailers know where shoppers are in the store, and it also can send them messages based on that location. This could mean targeting shoppers with coupons for specific items as they travel throughout the store. But this can only be done if the stores have the ability to connect with the consumer’s smartphone — which means opting in to a program and downloading an app.

That could be one point of friction. But because GE’s technology uses a Bluetooth radio signal, as opposed to beacons (which haven’t caught on on the popularity scale), it might be more warmly received by consumers. Beacons have gotten a bad rap as being the Big Brother of the tracking group.

“This high-accuracy, real-time connection will allow retailers to combine contextual information with location to create revolutionary new tools such as indoor navigation, infinite aisle, suggested items, product information, and special offers or coupons to those who opt in and download the retailer’s app,” GE explained.

And what better way to do that, at least from GE’s perspective, than with lighting? Consumers are already connected to commerce opportunities via social media, apps and advertisements. Why not add a way for retailers to connect to those consumers in real-time, using sensors that indicate what the customer is looking for out of their consumer experience?

After all, what retailers are quickly realizing is that there is no one-size-fits-all commerce solution to attracting customers.

“Today’s consumers want a customized experience—from the news they read, to the games they play, to the products they buy, they expect technology-driven personalization,” said Jeff Bisberg, Global General Manager of Indoor Location for GE Lighting. “Working with Qualcomm Atheros, GE is harnessing the power of our commercial LED lighting to give retailers the opportunity to create an enhanced experience for shoppers securely, while respecting their privacy.”

Most research about how consumers use mobile to shop suggests that a growing number of consumers are turning toward mobile while they shop. Whether it be for price comparison, to read product reviews or to actually shop online while in store, mobile is quickly becoming a retailer’s best friend — even for many brick-and-mortar retailers like Target. Recent Google research shows that 42 percent of in-store consumers use mobile to research online while they are actually in a store. That figure is in the ballpark of other reports on the subject, such as the Federal Reserve’s study on consumer use of mobile devices.

Of those who use mobile for in-store research, 71 percent claimed they are turning more and more to their devices to enhance their in-store shopping experience, Google reported. This is the population that retailers are now competing for, and they’re doing it through smarter, more concentrated marketing ploys than even before.

And being able to target those smartphone-savvy shoppers is becoming more than just a perk for retailers; it’s becoming expected. Qualcomm and GE are trying to get ahead of the game with the Visible Light Communication sensors to connect with those consumers in ways that haven’t been executed before.

“Enabling retailers to provide shoppers contextual services, with pinpoint accuracy, will introduce a new level of personalization and customer service,” said Cormac Conroy, Qualcomm’s Vice President Of Product Management. “We look forward to supporting GE Lighting to commercialize this technology and to make possible a new level of indoor location and context experience.”

Outside of the retail industry, GE has also been using its lighting technology to enable another growing trend: the Internet Of Things. As the IoT has begun to push itself into payments through players like Intel, GE has been transforming how LED lighting can be used in cities, buildings and homes. It announced earlier this week that its Intelligent LED lighting was connecting with Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem to help smart homes get smarter.

“As we continue to grow our infrastructure business by connecting our brilliant industrial machines to the Internet, it is important that consumers experience connected things in easy-to-use, everyday ways. Lighting is how many first experiment with the idea of a smart home, and our insights show that consumers want the ability to control lighting from anywhere, automate lighting and pair lighting with other devices—like sensors, thermostats and door locks,” said Beth Comstock, President & CEO of GE Business Innovations.

Although GE’s move to connect with the home’s ecosystem isn’t about payments, retail or commerce, it does demonstrate the push across the tech industry that’s leading everyone (and every company) into the hyper-connected world of the Internet of Things. And if the IoT industry has proven anything, it’s that when it comes to connecting to consumers, it starts with those little devices no one can seem to put down: smartphones.

That’s a page retailers are trying to learn from.


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