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What Can Pokémon Go Teach GE About Retail's Future?

August 19, 2016
Mike Barrett doesn’t typically play video games, but he's learned a lot about the future of retail from Pokémon Go.
The Manchester, England, native recently bought his 11-year-old-son his first smartphone. “Less than a week after giving him his first mobile phone, he is completely addicted to Pokémon Go,” Barrett says.

Barrett soon started seeing the game everywhere and was fascinated to learn that everyone from pizzerias to retailers were using the game to lure customers. He wondered how the technology could apply to his work as general manager for northern Europe at Current, a startup within GE that delivers energy-as-a-service with energy reducing, producing and optimizing solutions.

Toys have a history of leading to bigger ideas. In the late 1800s, the Wright Brothers were first inspired to think about flying when their father brought home a toy helicopter designed by French experimenter Alphonse Pénaud. “What has been interesting about Pokémon Go,” Barrett says, “is that it shows us you can now use technology to attract customers to a particular retail space.”

stories-stores-storyline-shoppingBarrett says one way to leverage the lesson of Pokémon Go is to harness the power of new LED bulbs and fixtures, which can do much more than illuminate a room. When the fixtures are connected to the Industrial Internet using sensors and software, they can help brick-and-mortar stores become more efficient. “The LED technology we are putting in ceilings are not only energy-saving devices but they are also effectively mini-computers that can do different things,” he says.

For example, smart LEDs can be used for indoor positioning systems (IPS)— a sort of under-the-roof GPS that can be embedded in a store’s lights to locate people or objects inside buildings, typically via smartphones. IPS systems use unseen light frequencies to pinpoint where shoppers are. Connected to GE’s Predix platform for the Industrial Internet, IPS can communicate powerful analytics to retailers and tell them about customer behavior.

Think, Barrett says, of how harnessing such technology as IPS with predictive analytics can reveal all manner of information about shopper behavior. How long do they stay in a store? Which aisles do they gravitate towards? What engages them? Armed with answers to such questions, retailers can set about trying to influence people’s movements through mobile devices. For a generation of shoppers attuned to their handsets, an augmented-reality lure delivered by mobile phone could be more powerful than physical signs directing them to key aisles of a store.

Barrett says the system allows retailers to better respond to customers and boost profits. The opportunities are enormous. For example, in the U.K. alone, ecommerce sales are set to exceed £67 billion in 2016 with £25.2 billion of that total coming from mobile devices, up 25 percent from last year, according to eMarketer. UK mobile commerce is forecast to grow to more than £45.2 billion by 2020.

Current is working with partners and customers to deploy software and apps in concert with intelligent LEDs that apply science to the art of retailing. One such collaboration with Celect helps ensure retailers have the right products in the right place in a store. Another, VideoMining, offers in-store analytics about customer behavior. A third, Keonn, helps ensure customers find the products on their lists.

GE believes that by 2020, more than 20 billion devices will be connected to the Industrial Internet, producing an avalanche of data that can be analyzed to make everything from medical scanners to retail stores more efficient.

Barrett says more apps will follow on Current’s Intelligent Environments ecosystem. Indeed, Current is working on manner of deployments with customers to learn how new technology can be used. In one, a beacon at the entry to a parking lot alerts the network when customers arrive, which store they go to first and what they purchase.

“We can pretty much design anything we want with an app,” Barrett says. “Pokémon Go shows us that.”