Consumers 'happy to share personal data' with retailers via shop lights

You could categorise this as of course they would say that: a major vendor of technology that helps physical world retailers collect insightful, real-time data on consumers in their shops reports that people don't mind sharing such information.

The technology is LED lighting, which is shaping up as a powerful tool to track an individual's location in a bricks-and-mortar store and to send relevant product information, promotions and discount coupons to their smartphones.

The casual observer might regard so-called visible light communication (VLC) as an invasion of privacy. They might see it as Big Brother-ish spying in which omnipresent ceiling lights follow them around as they wind their way from the personal hygiene aisle to beer, crisps, confectionary, magazines and so forth.

But GE Lighting has a message for retailers: don't worry, most people actually want it.

'A major piece of research by GE Lighting has revealed that consumers are far more willing to share private data with retailers, such as their mobile phone location, than previously imagined – and indeed that there is a real desire for the kind of in-store connected services this information could support,' GE said in a press release announcing the results of their study. 'Only 21 per cent of the shoppers surveyed said that they did not trust retailers to handle their location data in a safe and secure manner, suggesting that concerns about privacy and information sharing may have been over stated.'

If that is true, then, as Lux  has written previously, VLC technology could become the greatest technology in brick-and-mortar retailing since the barcode. In VLC, digital lights (LEDs, which are light-emitting diodes) use wireless communcation to match information about an individual's interests and buying habits with products available in the store. It intelligently alters the frequency of LED lightwaves, embedding them with offers and messages that it delivers to a customer's smartphone camera, for display on the smartphone screen.

In the US, retail giant Target has started to use the techology. GE Lighting has said that it is working on pilot VLC installations with at least four retailers – two in the US and two in Europe – but has so far declined to identify them.

Vendors are elbowing each other for a place at the potentially bountiful VLC table. Last month, LED purveyor Acuity Brands acquired VLC specialist ByteLight Inc., which had previously been partnering with GE.

The results of GE's study reaffirm why vendors are aggressively chasing VLC opportunities.

'Not only were 79 per cent of respondents willing to share their data or willing to share it with some reservations, 75 per cent of shoppers commented that retailers could do a better job of providing navigation support around the store,' GE said. 'In addition, 59 per cent of the consumers surveyed said that they would be more likely to visit a retailer if they offered personalised promotions and deals sent via a smart phone, which could be achieved easily through the use of mobile data engagement.'

James Fleet, head of retail specification at GE Lighting added:

  • 'The results are interesting because they contradict pre-conceived ideas about the willingness of consumers to share their information with retailers. Increasingly, we’re seeing that customers are quite happy to engage with brands in this way, as long as they receive something in return. Indoor positioning systems open up a new channel of communication between retailers and consumers, allowing them to offer a much more personalised shopping experience – by providing timely and targeted discount offers and product information, for example. For high street retailers that are finding it harder than ever to compete with the convenience and low prices of online outlets, this can provide a vital means of clawing back some of the lost revenue.'

Given the wild abandon with which many people already give up personal data for free to Facebook, Google and the vortex of web commerce, GE's findings seem plausible.

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Photo is from Target