As retail technology goes, we live in a world where smaller seems better. We maximize the use of space because space comes at a cost. In learning about the connected building, however, we recently recognized that the retail space itself – when connected – can transform from a cost center to an asset of strategic and operational importance.
When a store is connected – that is, when everything in the store is communicating digitally with everything else – it becomes an extension of the retail IT infrastructure. In other words, it’s now part of the computer system that runs the store. Sensors and controllable devices located throughout the store work together to mine and parse data constantly generated throughout the environment. Retailers use this data to give connected shoppers more control over their in-store shopping journeys.
Across the globe, retailers are adopting connected building technology as a way to bring parity with online/mobile experiences to their brick-and-mortar stores. And that global adoption, along with the transformations it brings to retail, is happening now, thanks to a number of important advances in technology:
- proliferation of mobile devices and related technologies, such as mobile-as-a-platform and mobile workforce systems;
- availability of low-cost bandwidth that accommodates real-time transmission of tremendous amounts of data all around the world and into the cloud and back;
- relative ease for providing technology services through low-cost cloud infrastructures and platforms;
- new affordability and flexibility of cloud- and container-based app development through microservice design;
- increased edge-computing capabilities supported by powerful gateways paired with smaller, more powerful devices;
- proliferation of low-cost, low-power sensors with long battery life; and
- wide adoption of Bluetooth® Low Energy technology for lightweight, low-power and wireless “last-mile” connectivity.
Before these advances, the use of a retail facility as an operational asset was limited to the installation of building management systems (BMS) that, through select protocols, helped retailers save energy by upgrading to controllable lighting and/or HVAC systems. Today, building-management technology has evolved to the point of changing an entire value stream as new uses are found for the broad spectrum of data made available by connectivity.
The new technology has created the ideal soil for the growth of the connected retail store. As the “where” and “when” information is generated within the retail space, it can be used to optimize and individualize customers’ shopping experiences. Such connectivity – and its unparalleled location-aware precision – is facilitated by the overhead LED lighting infrastructure, and is an example of Internet of Things, or IoT, capabilities.
In fact, we now are seeing Bluetooth® Low Energy technology radios embedded in LED lights, allowing the new digital lighting networks to become the very capillary networks that are needed to enable IoT, at scale, in a connected store. After all, LED lights are always powered. They are digitally connected through lighting control networks. And, they are the necessary ubiquitous and dense grid of nodes – located within 10 to 20 feet of every person or thing that we want to connect within a retail space.