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Retail Lighting: LEDs and wireless controls are key to the future

BY CSA STAFF

Lighting is fundamental to any retail store, whether that is for setting a scene and influencing how a brand is perceived, or even encouraging shoppers to make a particular purchase. However, if not managed correctly, it can be extremely expensive. In fact, lighting accounts for around 53% off all electricity consumption in a typical retail outlet, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Typically, in-store lighting runs for prolonged periods of time, both during opening hours and after hours for re-stocking purposes. The challenge for stores is significant: maintaining appropriate and safe levels of lighting for staff and customers, while keeping energy costs to a minimum.

Seeking to improve the customer experience, cut operating costs and save energy in their chain stores, some of the nation’s best known retailers have invested in innovative LED solutions. As a result, these companies have significantly reduced energy consumption during trading and non-trading hours. However, many retailers are still unaware that by combining the technology with wireless lighting control solutions they can achieve even greater savings.

Lighting control and management systems are beginning to be utilized across shop floors, resulting in reduced energy costs and carbon emissions. Until recently however, several issues had hampered the adoption of such lighting control technology. Ease of commissioning and the ability to retrofit proved to be stumbling blocks for many retailers, with costly and disruptive installation processes required.

Wireless lighting control solutions have changed the game. Being completely wireless, intrusions are limited, allowing for a simple installation and a hassle free commissioning process in any retail environment which reduces trading down time.

Reducing Consumption: There are clear opportunities to reduce lighting and, as a consequence, energy consumption across retail stores. By accurately monitoring and managing lighting profiles through a wireless control system, retailers are now able to gain an overview of their entire lighting portfolio — including energy consumption as well as areas for potential savings.

In a classic retail environment, for example, LED lighting remain at 100% during opening hours, even when not all areas of the store need to be illuminated. Unoccupied stock rooms, changing areas and areas where natural daylight comes into the store often do not require a reduced the same level of lighting or in fact any artificial light at all.

Relying on store staff to make decisions on lighting areas – even if dimming capabilities are available – is a tall order in a busy retail environment. Using controls to achieve this is far more effective. Wireless lighting controls allow managers to individually or collectively switch off or dim luminaires. In a retail environment, where certain areas of the store are not always in use, this is particularly beneficial.

Further mapping of a retail facility and monitoring of ‘energy hotspots’ can allow for additional control strategies to be put actioned – further enhancing savings. By grouping luminaires, switches and maximizing sensors for occupancy detection, lights can be dimmed or turned off completely when parts of a store are not in use. While in zones with natural light LED fixtures can be dimmed to a lower output, leading to substantial reductions in energy consumption. Accent light can also be dimmed for mood lighting to set a scene.

New Solutions: New cloud-based, remote access, wireless control, monitoring and management systems for indoor lighting are now meeting the demand of retailers. Such systems give users the freedom to commission, configure and control lighting with multi-site control from a single hub. They allow retailers to wirelessly monitor and manage interior lighting across their entire range of stores all wirelessly from a single device. Through an intuitive graphic user interface, which can be accessed through the internet on a laptop, tablet or even smartphone, retailers can access a quick overview of any installation or multiple installations, across different sites. They can view key data including energy and cost savings, energy hotspots, as well as any potential lamp failures.

Usage patterns can be managed to enable the most effective energy strategy to be implemented. Luminaires can be switched or dimmed collectively, or individually, and scheduled to activate lighting when needed. Information on testing for audit tracking and energy hotspots can also be accessed.

The bottom line is that wireless lighting control systems open up significant opportunities for stores to save energy.


Antony Currie, president, worldwide sales, Harvard Technology Ltd.

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Kroger excited about new presidential administration

BY CSA STAFF

Will President-elect Donald Trump be good for Kroger’s business? The retailer’s stock has enjoyed a sharp rise since Trump was named the 45th president.

“Well, so far it certainly looks that way,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said during an interview on CNBC. “We look forward to working with the administration and getting the growth again and more jobs started, so it’s exciting.”

McMullen said job growth is what he is looking forward to the most when the new administration gets to work in January. “One of the key things is creating stability and confidence to spend and invest for the future.”

However, there is one headwind standing in Kroger’s way. Food deflation, or a decline in the price of products, is a near-term challenge, McMullen said.

“If you look at the last 25 or 30 years, we’ve had three periods of deflation in grocery,” he said. “This is the third time. Typically it lasts three to five quarters and we’re in the middle of that process right now.”

McMullen added going through a period of food deflation is “no fun,” but Kroger will get through this period and continue to grow.

McMullen was also asked to comment about e-commerce in the grocery business.

“Online has been something that has been really important to us,” said McMullen. “We now have 531 stores with ClickList [an online ordering, pick-up-in-store service]. “We’ve had tremendous growth. It’s one more thing for customers to determine how to shop with us.”

In addition, McMullen was questioned about the competitive landscape, with a particular focus on whether Amazon’s previous announcement that it plans to enter the grocery and convenience store business is a threat to the Cincinnati-based retailer.

“We are so focused on understanding our customers and their needs and making sure we deliver against their needs,” responded McMullen. “Competitors will do all kinds of different strategies but what’s most important and what our associates do a great job of is focusing on that feedback from the customer and making sure we are delivering what they need.”

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The Rise of Robots in Retail

BY CSA STAFF

The retail industry is on the precipice of a robotics revolution. While leading-edge retailers like Amazon have been using robots, their role has largely remained experimental or behind the scenes, primarily used in warehouses and fulfillment centers to perform pick, pack and ship duties. That is about to change.

Retailers are increasingly testing use cases for robots in a variety of roles from internal operations to customer-facing service. As they become more capable and cost effective, we will increasingly see robots having significant impact on every aspect of the retail value chain.

As one of the more intelligent “things” that can be connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), robots are helping retailers realize the digitization potential of IoT by reducing labor costs, improving operational efficiency and even delivering delightful customer experiences. Here are several areas where we expect to see the rise of robots in the near future:

Warehouses and Distribution Centers

Robots have already made a tremendous impact by performing pick, pack and ship tasks in warehouses and distribution centers. More than two years ago Amazon began use its KIVA robot to perform these duties across all its fulfillment centers and today it’s estimated the robots save Amazon $22 million at EACH facility. Walmart plans to use drones in its warehouses within the next few months to check inventory in a fraction of the time it takes humans today.

Where retailers like Amazon and Walmart lead the way, others will surely follow. More retailers are taking an intermediate step by equipping human warehouse workers with smart glasses and augmented reality applications to provide context and workflow assistance, but there is still tremendous opportunity throughout the retail industry to automate more warehouse activities through increased use of robots.

Surveying Store Conditions

Since robots have proved their worth behind the scenes, an increasing number of retailers are moving them to the front of the shop, allowing robots to roam the store floor to capture real-time information on shelf conditions, take stock of inventory and note planogram compliance and effectiveness.

Robots like Tally can travel a store’s aisles for up to 12 hours on a single charge, auditing shelves and checking up to 20,000 SKUs with greater than 96 percent accuracy – a task that retail staff might traditionally spend 25 to 40 hours per week performing manually, with less accuracy. Retailers can greatly reduce revenue loss and operational problems caused by out-of-stocks, overstocks and other inventory discrepancies by using robots to continuously survey shelf conditions. As an added benefit, the real-time data collected by these roaming robots can be combined with analytics to gain insight into shopper behavior, optimize planograms and much more.

Customer Service

Robots are even being employed in more customer-facing, service-oriented roles. Brick-and-mortar retailers realize that to better compete with e-commerce giants, they need to improve customer experience and convenience in store – and robots can help.

Walmart is testing the use of robotic shopping carts that help shoppers find items on their list and eliminate the need to push heavy carts around the store. This can be especially helpful for customers with disabilities. And Lowe’s announced the roll-out of the LoweBot in several stores. Shoppers can tell these types of customer service robots what they are looking for, or even hold an item up to the robots’ 3D sensing cameras and have the robot guide them to the item’s exact location on the shelf.

For retailers like Lowes, these types of robots could eliminate the frustration of trying to find a particular type of screw, for example, within the vast home improvement store. Customer service robots can even perform double duty, scanning shelf inventory and sending real-time data to store associates while they guide customers through the aisles.

While it may be years before robots can provide high-touch, “clienteling” customer experiences, they can help retailers optimize workforce productivity by offloading many of the more tedious or repetitive tasks from human workers. This can dramatically lower the cost of retail service and improve the customer experience by freeing up human associates to focus their efforts on the more skilled customer service experiences, such as building personalized relationships and loyalty with customers.

Robotics technology is maturing rapidly and breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, computer vision and natural language processing (which makes robots both more useful and more personable) are accelerating adoption. At the same time government agencies and standards bodies are working on standards and regulations to make robots safer and more interoperable with other IoT technologies. And, as consumers continue to become more connected to the IoT and increasingly leverage technology in their personal lives, we’ll see growing consumer acceptance of robots. With these factors converging, I expect we’ll see robots becoming much more mainstream in retail within the next few years.

Robotics Revolution

To start riding the wave of the robotics revolution, retailers will first need a digital-ready foundation and an IT architecture in place that is capable of supporting pervasive, robust wireless connectivity, data collection and aggregation, flexible cloud computing, edge analytics, mobility, and more. This foundation enables retailers to gain the insights and contextual understanding necessary to deliver hyper-relevant and personalized customer experiences through robotics.

The cloud, especially, is critical for helping retailers leverage their robots’ artificial intelligence to the greatest extent. With cloud robotics, when one robot learns a new skill it can share its newfound knowledge to the cloud so other robots can acquire the same skill without having to be specifically programmed or having to learn independently through trial and error.

Lastly, retailers who plan to let robots roam the store floor will likely find that they need more advanced precision indoor location technology. This helps a robot navigate and know precisely what aisle it’s on or what products it’s near while avoiding bumping into customers or displays – especially in environments where planograms, modular displays and signage are constantly changing.

Nearly every aspect of retail can benefit from robotics. Retailers should examine their businesses to identify the use cases where robots can help provide a competitive advantage by streamlining operational efficiency, optimizing workforce productivity or improving the customer experience.

Whether it is automating fulfillment processes, improving shelf conditions and inventory accuracy, helping customers find what they’re looking for, or another scenario, robots are on the rise and will play an increasingly important role in retail.


Shaun Kirby is director, industries product group, at Cisco, a global technology leader.

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