As an architect, I have always been fascinated by the power of good lighting to transform any environment into a rich, evocative presence and create a memorable experience. Working with the best lighting designers, I use lighting and other design tools to bring my vision to life, creating an inviting retail experience while beautifully highlighting my client’s product and creating an enjoyable shopping experience. In short, good lighting creates a luxury retail experience.
In retail, good lighting is good business. Beyond creating a dramatic environment that captivates and directs your attention, effective lighting brings the product to life in rich, vibrant color. Why do some stores, even well-designed ones, appear drab and uninviting or worse yet, cold and unappealing? Where the merchandise appears to be dull and lifeless. Or stores where the merchandise may look good in the store, yet when the customer takes it home, they find that the color has shifted and no longer works as well for them as they thought? And then, they end up returning the product feeling dissatisfied with the entire shopping experience.
Although there are many reasons people walk away from making a purchase, poor-quality lighting can undermine the success of your sales efforts. Your store’s lighting has a significant impact on the look and feel of the store, the merchandise, and your customers. It does not matter how beautiful the store’s design is or how artfully you have arranged your displays; if the lighting is off, your store and merchandise will look off. Bad lighting can be anything from poor color rendition, failure to provide effective accent lighting for key displays, lack of contrast lighting to highlight different areas, imbalanced lighting levels, or use of outdated light fixtures.
Good Lighting Encourages Sales
Our clients hire us to create beautiful stores that capture and express the essence of their brand to their customers. To create environments that excite, delight, and entice customers to stay and shop.
The design of good lighting creates a luxury retail experience and is an essential part of this process. It enhances store design in various ways.
- It creates an engaging atmosphere that pulls customers into the store. And working with the store design and layout keeps them there.
- Enhances the look of the merchandise showing its actual color with light fixtures that have good color rendition.
- Effectively uses accent lighting to focus the customers’ attention on key display areas and lead them through the store.
- Uses contrast lighting juxtaposing light and dark areas to create dramatic interest and focus.
- Balances light and dark areas to ensure visual comfort.
- It uses advanced lighting technology for greater energy efficiency and control.
So, where do you start when creating effective lighting for a store? There are several elements to consider. Let’s look at each one to understand what they are and why they are essential.
Four Types of Retail Lighting
When developing lighting for a store, the first thing to consider is how it will activate the entire space and support the design of the store and the merchandise displayed. Rather than broadly illuminating an area, a good lighting scheme will incorporate several different types of light. Each working together to create an intended dramatic effect.
- Ambient Lighting – This is the overall lighting of the store, and it delivers a broad level of illumination throughout. It can include ceiling downlights, suspended pendant lights, or uplights that bounce light off the ceiling and into the store. However, it would be a very uninspiring environment if a store was only lit with ambient lighting. Hence the need for more specialized lighting.
- Display Lighting – The sole purpose of display lighting is to bring the shoppers’ attention to the merchandise. It is more intense than ambient lighting. Display lighting is focused solely on lighting the merchandise and setting it apart from its surroundings. It can include ceiling downlights focused on the merchandise or light fixtures located directly above the merchandise.
- Accent Lighting – The most intense lighting in a store, accent lighting is a narrow beam of bright light that brings attention to a display or creates a unique special effect. Accent lights punch through ambient light to create drama and excitement. They focus the customers’ attention and can lead them through the store by shifting their attention from one display to another.
- Decorative Lighting – While decorative lighting may also provide overall lighting, its primary purpose is to add beauty and a unique point of interest to a space. The most common decorative lights are chandeliers, pendants, or sconces. However, with the advent of modern technology, LED lights provide the opportunity to create numerous unique light fixtures and special effects.
Now that we have set up a dynamic framework for the types of lighting creating a luxury retail experience, our next step is to look at the quality of light delivered.
Choosing the Right Light Fixtures
Many light fixtures can provide quality lighting in a retail space. An essential consideration in your choice of fixtures, other than selecting high-quality, high-performance, and energy-efficient fixtures, is aesthetics. The chosen fixtures must complement the store design and merchandise while providing the best lighting for your merchandise.
A sleek contemporary store design with a minimal aesthetic will call for subtle, hidden light sources such as cove lighting or small discreet ceiling lights. In a more traditional retail design, a dramatic chandelier, or other decorative light fixtures, can be used in addition to ceiling lights. Track lighting is often used to provide maximum flexibility for merchandise displays that change frequently. Rather than fully exposing track light fixtures, it is better to partially conceal them in ceiling coves or behind valences for a cleaner look.
The Importance of Color Temperature
Selecting the right color temperature for a retail environment helps establish the mood and feel of the store. But what exactly is color temperature? Color temperature is a way of describing the color of light as it appears on a continuous spectrum. It is why warm lights appear to be yellow and cool lights look blue in comparison. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K), ranging from warm to cool.
- 2000K-3000K is a soft, warm white light similar to candlelight. 2700K, otherwise known as warm white, is often used for residential lighting. You can also use warmer lighting in restaurants and hospitality to create a more intimate environment.
- 3100K-4500K is a brighter, whiter light, a good range for lighting retail spaces. 3500K provides a neutral white light, and 4000K is better known as cool white. You can also use this color range for offices and other commercial environments.
- 4600K-6500K is a brilliant white light and indoors will have a blue cast. 6500K is considered the equivalent of daylight. Lighting in this color range is often used in hospitals and industrial spaces requiring a brighter light for the tasks performed.
Each color temperature has a different effect on the body. Warmer light is more relaxing and soothing and helps the body relax. Cooler light is energizing and helps people focus and concentrate. However, lighting that is too cool can make a space feel cold and unwelcoming.
Good Color Rendition is Essential in Retail Lighting
Good color rendition is crucial to the success of any retail lighting scheme. Rather than the absence of color, white light combines all the colors in the color spectrum from red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, to violet. And the colors we see in the world around us are a mix of primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) and secondary colors (orange, purple, and green.) For lighting to accurately show the true color of any object, it must contain the full color spectrum as found in natural light. If it does not, the color will appear to be off.
The Color Rendition Index (CRI) is a scale from 0 to 100. It measures how well a light source shows the actual color of merchandise or any object. Good quality lighting has a high CRI and will accurately depict the color of an object. Poorer quality lighting with a low CRI will not reflect all the colors, thus distorting the look of an object. For example, the color of a red apple under poor lighting will shift and appear muddy.
A light with a CRI of 100 will provide the best color rendition, as found in natural lighting. Ideally, you want the lighting in a retail store to have a CRI of 90 or above to most accurately show the color of your merchandise. A CRI of 55 or less is considered poor lighting.
LED Bulbs and LED Light Fixtures
The most effective and flexible retail lighting today uses LED or Light-Emitting Diodes. LED lighting can be provided either by using LED bulbs in traditional light fixtures or LED light fixtures where the LED bulb is integral to the fixture.
LED lights have many advantages over older incandescent lights such as MR-16, PAR, or HID. They are programmable, allowing the designer to easily change the light’s distribution, intensity, and color to create innumerable special effects. With tunable lighting, you can change the color temperature from the warm, soft glow of 2700K to the daylight brightness of 6500K with the flick of a switch.
LEDs are also the most energy-efficient fixtures on the market. They provide a brighter light for less wattage than traditional incandescent or fluorescent fixtures. For example, a 16-watt LED bulb delivers the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb and can last up to 10 years or more. LEDs provide the dramatic lighting needed for high-end retail spaces for a fraction of the cost. Low energy, high-impact lighting is essential in states with strict energy codes that limit the amount of energy used in projects, such as New York or California.
Good Lighting is Good Design
As I said at the beginning of this blog, I am fascinated by lighting design and consider it a crucial part of any project we do. Beyond the fundamentals of providing good quality lighting, creative lighting has the power to transform the look and feel of the environment dramatically. It is one of several tools we use when designing a store or any project.
Like any project, store design begins with understanding our client and their brand, merchandise, and relationship with their customer. The key to that is understanding our client’s objectives and goals. We base the store’s design on that understanding, fully expressed in the selection of color and materials and the detailing of the store. And the lighting, which brings it all to life.
To learn more about our approach, feel free to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me to discuss your project.