How Indoor Positioning Services Using LEDs Benefit Shoppers and Retailers


A harried mother in the baking aisle can’t find lemongrass spice. A teenager in the junior department can’t decide which T-shirt to buy. A family in sporting goods is disappointed that the tent for their camping trip appears to be out of stock.

“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.

Bringing the Power of Positioning Systems Inside

In-store positioning is similar to the global positioning system (GPS) technology that many of us 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.

Retailers have the opportunity to enrich the customer shopping experience using these indoor positioning services. Here are the key benefits:

• Efficient, Convenient, and Personalized Shopping

Indoor positioning, paired with mobile device retail loyalty apps, allows shoppers to tailor their in-store experience to make it more efficient and satisfying. Shoppers can quickly gather items from a shopping list and use the app’s “blue-dot” mapping feature to get step-by-step guidance to the exact location they seek.

They also benefit from better deals, because the retailer can send coupons and discounts tailored to their specific needs at the exact moment they are mulling over an item.

• More Choice through Omnichannel Shopping

Working with the retailer’s mobile loyalty app, indoor positioning optimizes online, mobile and in-store channels, providing shoppers with information and tools to find, buy and receive the items they want. And, if the shopper wants more choices than what she sees on the shelf, the app can connect her to the retailer’s online store to browse additional options, and get online-ordered merchandise delivered directly to her – with just a few taps of the mobile device screen.

Hassle-Free New Store Experience

Consumers shop at familiar stores because visiting an unknown store can be inefficient and time consuming. Indoor positioning VLC guides shoppers through an unfamiliar environment so they can enjoy a new shopping experience with all of the ease and amenity of their “home store.”

Business Benefits

Beyond the customer experience, indoor positioning is making its mark in other ways that bolster business for retailers:

Smarter Merchandising

Advanced data analytics, using location data, paired with point-of-sale and inventory data can better track the effectiveness of store design. Retailers can assess in-store traffic patterns and dwell times, coupon conversions and other information to assess the impact of marketing and merchandising strategies.

Better understanding what shoppers do in store can improve layout, and drive more effective shelf and display strategies. Further, merchandise can be quickly re-stocked or re-deployed based on shoppers’ actions.

Optimized Operations

Indoor Positioning can help optimize employee deployment by providing digital work orders that send a worker directly to a customer needing assistance or to a location requiring urgent attention, such as a spill. Further, retailers can appeal to shoppers with experts on call from a central location, available to answer questions and offer suggestions.

Indoor Positioning: Technology Matters

The beacon technology that drives indoor positioning enables high-precision indoor location of people and products. Beacons are being tested by more than half of the top 100 U.S. retailers. 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 lighting-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 you’re looking for a small item in a vast, densely-packed grocery store aisle.

Further, 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. However, 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 that 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 enables 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 the senior VP of applied integrated solutions for Acuity Brands, a leading providers of lighting solutions and components for both indoor and outdoor applications.