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Beacon Lighting lays foundation for in-store tech

Specialty retailer Beacon Lighting has changed the way its stores connect to the internet, part of a significant investment in its technical infrastructure that is powering new in-store shopping experiences, such as smart home demonstrations, mobile POS systems and endless aisle kiosks.

Beacon Lighting CIO Mick Tan said the change was initially driven by a desire to create a layer of redundancy, so stores could still send sales data from POS systems to the head office if their primary ADSL connection went down. But the company didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a solution that wasn’t going to be used on a daily basis.

“We investigated how much it would cost to put 4G in with Telstra and found it would take a lot of money to make it secure, and we’d be paying to have something sit there doing nothing,” Tan told IR.

Beacon Lighting’s options for a supplementary service were limited to 4G, however, since some stores were located in areas that had been designated for NBN service but hadn’t received it yet. Turning to technology partner OPIA, the retailer ultimately implemented a solution from US tech firm Riverbed, which allowed it to connect stores to the internet in two ways  – ADSL and 4G – and utilise both networks at the same time.

This not only created the redundancy Tan was after, but also increased the reliability and bandwidth of Beacon’s in-store wifi connection, which is now powering a number of consumer-facing initiatives, including a new demo station where staff can show customers how to use smart and connected lighting products from brands like Philips.

“One area is hooked up to Google Home, and the other area is hooked up to Alexa, and employees talk to [the devices] to have the lights change colour or dim to 20 per cent,” Tan said. “It allows us to educate the customer.”

Differentiating through demo stations

After trialling the demo station at its South Melbourne store, Beacon Lighting is now in the process of rolling out demo stations in 48 of its 109 stores across Australia. They will continue to appear in more stores in future, according to Tan.

During the presentation of its full-year results in August, the retailer said that smart lighting products would play an important role in its future growth. The demo stations are expected to help it differentiate from other retailers that offer these products but aren’t able to show customers how to use them in-store. Beacon Lighting is launching its own range of affordable smart lights, Lucci Connect, in two months’ time.

The retailer also relies on wifi to run its in-store design studios, where customers can bring in floor plans to consult staff on lighting specifications and placement. Staff typically scan the floor plans and display them on a widescreen TV, so they can discuss various options with customers. They can also save notations and send them to the customer’s architect or builder.

“Imagine what it’s like for Beacon Lighting to be sitting there with a customer and [the program] stops working or it’s really slow,” Andy Suggars, OPIA Technology director who worked on the implementation, told IR.

Powering endless aisle 

The retailer is also working on an endless aisle initiative that will eventually enable customers to browse all the colour and product variations that may not be available in-store. Five stores are currently testing non-transactional tablets, where customers can browse items online, but the plan is to eventually install kiosks in-store, where customers can make purchases or look up product information and send it to their phones via QR code.

“We showed two kiosks as a sample at our conference in Brisbane and it was very successful. Every store manager wanted it,” Tan said.

However, delivering endless aisle kiosks and other in-store initiatives like demo stations and design studios, is easier said than done. And as Tan found, the biggest challenge may not be integrating inventory systems or eliminating data siloes, but something as simple as having a reliable internet connection in-store.

“All of these things need internet access and enough bandwidth to have these things going to the cloud,” Tan said.

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