Battle heats up for in-store, lighting-based customer promotion technology as Acuity acquires key GE partner

With lighting-based in-store navigation and information systems poised to become the next big thing in retail technology, the vendors are elbowing each other, as $2.4 billion LED firm Acuity Brands has acquired a key 'indoor positioning' partner of lighting rival GE.

Atlanta-based Acuity said in a press release that it has purchased 'certain assets' including intellectual property of Boston-area startup ByteLight, Inc.

ByteLight's technology helps a store's LED lights pinpoint a shopper's location in the aisles and then send information about nearby products to the shopper's phone or tablet computer, along with promotional material and discounts. It's part of a broader and promising technology known as visible light communication (VLC).

Retailers like massive US chain Target are beginning to implement VLC strategically as a means to engage customers, generate revenue and engender loyalty.

'The combination of ByteLight's technology with Acuity Brands' award-winning visible light communication-enabled drivers and LED lighting platforms provides retailers with a method of delivering digital content to shoppers and associates within a retail store in an effort to increase customer loyalty and revenues while also reducing operating expenses,' Acuity said in a press release.

The transaction includes the acquistion of bluetooth-based beacons that form part of the information conduit that bounces between products, shelves and lights. Shoppers receive signals via the camera on their smartphones and tablets.

Acuity did not reveal financial details.

The acquisition would seem to rob rival GE of a key VLC technology partner, as GE has been working with ByteLight, as well as with other firms, on what GE calls indoor positioning systems.

'We usually do not comment on competition,' a GE spokesperson told Lux.

GE is developing pilot programmes with at least four retailers – two in the US and two in Europe - on indoor positioning pilot programmes, delivering product information and coupons.

'Each project is solving different challenges for different clients,' Mike Barrett, GE's head of product management for Europe Middle East and Africa, told Lux in a February interview. 'One customer is looking to improve flow around their stores embedding technology in their stores so it recognises when a consumer has walked into their store. Another company is particularly interested in couponing. Tracking habits and sending coupons to smart devices that are relevant to that particular customer.'

Barrett has described the technology as a 'game changer' and noted that, 'Retailers are constantly challenging us to think about new, creative ways of helping them. They’re not just asking how we can help them from a sustainability point of view, but how we can help them reduce their costs and improve their revenue.’

Acuity's senior vice president Steve Lydecker would agree in general with that overall vision for VLC's huge potential. 

'Combining the ByteLight BLE beacons and platform solution with the existing pinpoint accuracy available with Acuity Brands' indoor positioning technology will allow our customers to quickly recognize the transformational value associated with precise indoor positioning,' he said in the press release.

Time for all contestants to get into position on this one. 

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Lux head of content Robert Bain contributed to this report  

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Photo is from  LDprod via Shutterstock