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    Making shopping better—for good

    How IoT lighting solutions support autonomous shopping in the post pandemic era

    The COVID-19 pandemic has worked big changes on how we shop—and on what we expect from the places where we do it. People paid more attention to the indoor spaces where they had to spend time, especially food stores and other retail locations selling essential products. Many retailers imposed restrictions on the number of people allowed in store at any one time, disinfected high-touch areas like shopping cart handles, and regularly reminded shoppers to practice social distancing. Grocery shopping became a functional task, with shoppers visiting the store well-prepared: making their shopping lists before venturing on site, for example, instead of visiting the store for inspiration. Neighborhood markets were no longer places to bump into friends and spend some time catching up. Instead, people kept to themselves, collecting everything on their shopping lists and checking out as quickly as possible. The usage of self-checkout scanner devices skyrocketed, as many shoppers preferred checking themselves out instead of queueing up. Many retailers expect this habit to stick in the post-pandemic era, as a large number of shoppers now include self-scanning and self-checkout as part of their shopping routine.


    Shoppers decreased their number of store visits overall, opting instead for multiday or weekly store purchases. Shoppers also spent more money per shopping trip, indulging in more and premium groceries as bars and restaurants were closed. Pierre Nicolas-Schwab of French market research firm IntoTheMinds reports that “consumers are buying more in less time. As a result, the ratio of spending on time spent in the store has increased by 49%.” Similarly, in their report Disruption & Uncertainty: The State of Grocery Retail 2021, Europe, McKinsey & Company found that “European consumers reduced their shopping frequencies by around 5 percent on average, while increasing basket sizes by approximately 16 percent.”


    The increased basket sizes further fueled the adoption of self-scanning, as shoppers could bag their groceries along their shopping journey without having to unload their carts at checkout. The rapid adoption of these new scanning and checkout procedures gave shoppers a taste for an autonomous shopping journey. Increasingly, shoppers want a first-time-right store journey, finding everything on their list and checking out as efficiently as possible.


    Internet of Things (IoT) lighting solutions, including autonomous shopping capabilities, are helping grocery retailers meet these challenges and thrive in the post-pandemic era.

    Taking the anxiety out of in-store shopping

    Regular visits to a supermarket or grocery store are an essential fact of life for most people. In the pandemic era, unfortunately, this routine activity became a source of anxiety for many. According to Deloitte Insights, 54% percent of consumers experienced stress as a result of the in-store experience.


    As more retailers adopt IoT tech that promotes “focused shopping,” however, shopping promises to be a less fraught experience than it was during the pandemic—and a more enjoyable and personalized one in general.


    Take an IoT-based lighting system like Interact from Signify, with its indoor navigation capabilities. With such a system in place, shoppers can download and use a retailer’s app or self-checkout scanner that will guide them to items they might have had to search for in the past.


    The result? Little or no time wasted, and little redundancy of effort and motion. Shoppers enter a store, complete their business as fast as possible, and get out. They do so, moreover, in a self-sufficient way that minimizes the need for human interaction without sacrificing convenience or access to the information that a shopper might need to reference while in store.


    And when a shopper does require assistance, the retailer could include a “call for support” feature in the shopper app. Such a feature would notify a staff member, then guide them to the shopper requiring help, wherever they happen to be in the store.


    On the retailer’s side, a connected lighting system like Interact can collect footfall, dwell-time, density, and other data that can influence product placement decisions and help to optimize store layouts to encourage good traffic flow and discourage overcrowding. That’s a great benefit, whether a pandemic is raging or not.

    The autonomous future

    Autonomous shopping takes the safe shopping paradigm to its logical extreme. This is shopping that relies to a defining degree on automation—including self-checkout features that can go a long way toward eliminating lines, and therefore human contact.


    According to a recent study commissioned by Israeli retail technology leader Shekel Brainweigh Ltd Retail Innovation Division, 75% of primary household decision-makers said they are interested in shopping at an autonomous store. Consumers are looking for frictionless and contactless shopping experiences, but 70% would prefer a hybrid situation where human assistance is available if and when it’s needed.


    The retail industry will have to move quickly to respond to shoppers’ changing preferences and expectations. According to a forecast published by Allied Market Research, the global retail automation market is expected to reach US$23.58 billion by 2026, up from US$11.24 billion in 2018—a compound annual growth rate of 9.6% over a period of seven years. The autonomous retail sector in China effectively tripled in 2020, with the pandemic driving consumer safety concerns. Still, autonomous retail accounts for only about one-tenth of one percent of the overall retail market in China. Clearly, there is an enormous opportunity here for tech-savvy, forward-looking retailers to move ahead of the competition in the years to come. 


    IoT-powered wayfinding and navigation will also be key to powering ecommerce and BOPIS shopping. While e-commerce fulfillment centers are set up for efficient order picking, more and more order picking is done in store, where it can be cumbersome to locate all items on the picking list.  An IoT platform that directs employees precisely to the right shelf will play a big role in getting products to customers efficiently, even as it’s also great for a retailer’s bottom line. According to Signify data, order-picking rates can double when pickers have access to indoor navigation. Navigation solutions will be especially useful in an era when retailers typically rely on a large contingent of temporary workers to meet demand.

    Making shopping better, for good

    COVID-19 has been an accelerator for smart retail technology, driving home the benefits of the IoT-supported retail experience. The pandemic will fade, but these innovations will remain, making our shopping experiences safer, easier, faster, and generally more positive. As they develop through subsequent rounds of innovation, these technologies will continue to help redefine how we shop—and always for the better.

    About the author

    Simon den Uijl, Global Business Leader, Retail Systems, Signify

    Simon den Uijl

    Global Business Leader, Retail Systems at Signify

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