Comment, Retail

Welcome to the new business model of lighting

To market, to market: It's not just about light anymore. Ceiling lamps will beam information to shoppers' smartphones, directing them straight to discounts of specific interest to them. The planet's third largest retailer, Carrefour (pictured) is among the pioneers.

I turned 40 last year, and I now feel really old. Not in the physical sense, although my hair is now platinum grey, but I’m starting to sound like my father when talking to my kids or an old boss when discussing business with colleagues.

I remember the days when, if you were driving to a city you’d never been to, you’d buy an A-Z street atlas to find the street you were going to, and pull over to consult it again when you got lost. Or you might wind down the window and ask a local resident: ‘Where the hell am I?’

Then satnav came along and overnight my impressive collection of A-Zs were consigned to the bin. An entire generation has lost the skill of being able to read a map while driving, and to understand directions delivered in a broad range of regional accents with pubs or churches as way stations.

Then satnav merged with mobile phones and the internet and the makers of satnavs became software providers (if they were lucky and spotted the change coming). At a stroke, satnav took away the skill required to be a taxi driver: they no longer have to remember the names and locations of thousands of streets. Finally, the converged mobile phone/satnav/internet device revolutionises the very business model of taxis in the form of Uber.

Black taxis in London are great, until, that is, you need one, when they all vanish. There are plenty around, but they are heading in the wrong direction or are already occupied. After waving in the middle of the road like an idiot for half an hour you finally get one, but chances are they don’t take credit cards, or if they do you will be charged a king’s ransom.

I first used Uber late last year, it’s great. Open up the app on your smartphone, enter where you want to go, choose the type of car you want and sit back, finish your meal and you’ll get a message when the car arrives. You can even watch its progress in real time on your phone. Take the journey, get out and the bill is charged to your credit card and the receipt is emailed. You can even give feedback about the journey. The only downside is that you feel like you are crossing a trade union picket line as a line of black cab drivers stare daggers at you as you open the door of the pristine Mercedes E Class.

So what has this got to do with lighting? Well it appears lighting is soon to be converged into smartphone land. We won’t be using smartphones to light our homes, but we all know Wi-Fi is rubbish, so a host of companies have worked out that the LED light in the ceiling can be used to transmit data to smartphones through the forward-facing camera. You can surf the net at super-fast speed or apps can pinpoint you indoors to within 10cm. At first this all seemed a bit bonkers, but as I’ve studied the technology I have woken up to its potential. If I were 10 years younger I’d be packing up my desk drawer now, and heading off to start But I’m too late, the technology is already developed and being deployed.

As the organiser of the LuxLive lighting event, what if we could plug our visitor data into the lighting system at the Excel exhibition centre? You could download an app and check in by simply walking under the lights. You could be guided around the venue to the exhibitors you’ve expressed an interest in, or those we know you visited last year. Or we could use your online search history to steer you towards products you might like.

We could let exhibitors know you have arrived, and that you aren’t planning to visit their stand. We could then use the data of how long you spent on various stands to tailor the information we send you in future.

This is all possible today. Ah, but you protest about privacy. Well it is exactly the kind of information you hand over in the online world, whether you are aware of it or not. It is just now that we can do the same in the real world.

So what does this scenario do to the business model for lighting? Well the venue could charge us to access the data that has been gathered, and we in turn could sell the services and data on to our exhibitors. The lighting in the venue becomes a money-earning tool and not an expense. Welcome to the new business model of lighting.

So if you are reading this in a building with hundreds of lights, think about how this scenario works out in your business. The crowded underground platform with users hungry for the internet, the busy airport with missing passengers delaying the flight, the university where everyone is using Wi-Fi and complaining about how slow it is.

In retail this is becoming reality. As we have reported, the world’s third largest retailer, Carrefour, as well as US retail giant Target, are both now using light as part of a micro-location initiative. They are directing in-store shoppers straight to the aisles and shelves where they’ll find promotions and discounts of specific appeal to them.

That, in turn, should help keep the tills humming. That’s a message that any business can clearly understand, no matter what regional accent it’s delivered in.

Photo is from Carrefour