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Lightbulb moments! Lighting for retail stores

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

We recently joined fellow interior designers, architects, and lighting designers who gathered in London at the trade show LiGHT23* to explore new products, discuss current trends and immerse ourselves in all things lighting related.

Lighting for retail srores

For interior designers, lighting is one of our greatest tools, yet its impact is frequently underestimated by clients, especially when budgets are tight.

However, a great lighting scheme has the power to significantly enhance a space. In a retail context it can attract attention, guide footfall, and help to increase dwell time and sales. Whereas a badly lit environment will have completely the opposite effect. Consider the negative impact of the over-bright shop that hurts the eyes or the dimly lit display where the products look dull and uninviting. It’s a fine art to get the balance right but it’s possible to avoid such mistakes by following a set of guiding principles. Here are just some of the techniques we employ in our lighting schemes for clients:

Lighting for retail stores

Draw attention

Good retail design put’s the customer at the centre of the journey and lighting schemes should do the same. Think about the customer journey of the whole retail space - from the exterior windows and right throughout the store. The aim is to tempt people instore to start with and then encourage them to explore everything inside. To achieve great ‘consumer draw’ attention must be paid to the lighting levels of both the window display as well as some interior highlight zones, visible through the window or store threshold.

Avoid uniformity

Uniformity alone in a lighting scheme delivers an evenly distributed light level in every direction which is fine for an office space but in retail it creates a ‘flat’ environment. When everything is given the same level of light it looks the same - nothing stands out or catches the eye. There is no customer draw.

Lighting for retail stores

Layer lighting

By layering lighting schemes, designers can create the essential highs and lows that add intrigue in a retail space and invite the customer to explore the space more deeply. This is done by considering the functionality of each zone in the space and lighting it appropriately. The type of product as well as the architecture and the location of the store (high street versus a shopping mall for instance) will all influence the combination of lighting solutions required.

Lighting for retail stores

Add drama

Clever lighting can add drama to the physical space. When thinking about drama, think in terms of ‘contrast’. Areas that need standout should be lit to a brighter and sharper level compared to zones with less visual importance. In a retail store this means lighting the product rather than the space around it - wall and mid-floor displays need a greater volume of focused light than the walkways beside them.

Lighting for retail stores

Create destinations

Focal lighting highlights in the store space add interest and pace to the store journey and create destination points for customers. Vertical illumination helps with this - a well-lit display or illuminated graphic is effective at targeting footfall to key destination points that you don’t want customers to miss. In the same way, a well-lit transactional space allows for easy wayfinding in larger stores. Additionally, in more premium brand settings, dramatic feature lighting can create theatre, signpost hot spots and consultation zones, and generally deliver a richer experience.

Build in flexibility

For stores with frequently changing seasonal displays and layouts, flexible lighting is critical in the mix. Gimbal fittings or trackspots answer such needs as they can be repositioned and re-angled to transform the look and feel of the environment relative to the seasonality and differing use of the space. For this reason, these types of fittings are commonly specified for shop window lighting schemes which need to be regularly refreshed to sustain their store attraction role.

Lighting for retail stores

Colour counts

There are two aspects to cover when considering the colour of light.

Colour temperature looks at the warmth of the light. Measured in Kelvin, the higher the number, the cooler the temperature. 3000k is a common benchmark for most retail applications, the aim being to create a comfortable warmth without being too rich or too pale and clinical. For luxury jewellery and watch clients however, higher temperatures are preferable as they add sparkle and standout to precious stones and metals.

Colour rendering (or colour appearance) relates to the ‘true colour’ of illuminated objects. There can be nothing more disappointing for customers than discovering that the colour of the product they were sold in store looks completely different when they get it home! So, retail lighting schemes must take account of CRI (Colour Rendering Index) to avoid negative reviews from shoppers.

There was a plethora of inspiration at LiGHT23 as well as plenty of agreement on lighting’s unparalleled ability to conjure a particular mood, tone or atmosphere in the built space.

As retail designers we know that designing the right retail experience is fundamental to success, and results show that a well-designed retail lighting scheme positively impacts all areas of a store. It acts as a beacon to draw customers inside, aids wayfinding, and increases the time customers linger in a shop.

We therefore think it’s essential for us to help our clients understand the potential value of lighting in the overall shop design scheme. Lighting is not simply a ‘nice to have’ gimmick or add-on, it plays a far more central role in retail interior design. It can instantly establish a brand’s personality and enhance the customer experience so it should sit at the heart of every store design concept.

* LiGHT23 is the only trade show in the UK dedicated to lighting specification and promoting knowledge of lighting's critical role in the built environment.

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