Urgent Alert

How to create ambient lighting at your retail store

Date: July 31, 2022
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When you think of retail lighting, you may think of bright, harsh fluorescent lighting, which often washes the color out of much of the store’s contents. That kind of lighting can be overwhelming for consumers, leaving many to wonder why retailers continue to employ it. While these fluorescents are an improvement over their incandescent predecessors — which were considerably less energy efficient and generated significant amounts of heat, causing either increased cooling costs or an unpleasantly warm retail experience — there is another way: light-emitting diodes (LEDs).


LEDs give off less heat and use 25% to 75% less energy than conventional lighting technologies, lowering overall utility costs even more.1 While LEDs have historically been associated with directional lighting, design alternatives including recessed downlights have seen energy efficient LEDs embraced as ambient lighting options, alongside their many other uses, in retail environments.


While retail lighting can be used to serve many purposes, the chief goals of ambient lighting in the retail space are to attract customers, make a statement, show off the merchandise and reduce energy costs. How a store is lit conveys how that store perceives itself and its relationship with its customers. For example, diffused general lighting can provide a sense of well-being, while vertical illuminance provides a firmer sense of orientation in space.2


Two critical lighting traits


Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to retail lighting. There are numerous factors that go into selecting components of your light design. When making these decisions, consider the layout of your store, the items you sell, where they are located and how they look in different types of light. When assessing lighting options, there are two crucial light traits to take into account: correlated color temperature (CCT) and color rendering index (CRI).3


CCT, as you might expect, deals with how “warm” or “cool” the light is, which can have varying effects. For example, warmer light makes a space feel small, intimate, familiar. This kind of lighting can be helpful for establishing a feeling of trust and comfort. Meanwhile, cooler light makes areas feel more sterile and spacious, providing a fashionable, minimalistic feel. At the same time, neutral light can create a sense of well-being, which may extend the amount of time a customer spends in the store.


CRI, on the other hand, measures how a light source renders colors of objects. CRI can be used to measure lighting’s effects on color when light sources are of the same type and CCT. The higher the CRI of a light source (which is rated on a 0 to 100 scale), the more true to life colors look, which can enhance your store’s sense of credibility and combat that washed-out fluorescent feel mentioned above. For that reason, industry experts recommend a CRI value of 80 to 100.


LED lighting: an evolving retail lighting solution


When discussing these factors with your lighting contractor, be sure to discuss the possibility of including LED lights in your plan. LED technology has come a long way in recent years, broadening its capabilities, and LED bulbs are the most efficient, longest-lasting light source available, facts that have significantly aided the technology’s market share in the retail space.4


Even if LEDs aren’t right for your ambient light needs, they can be a great choice for task and accent lighting, which brings an extra level of illumination to key areas, such as entrances, checkout areas, dressing rooms and service desks. Of course, when it comes to making final decisions on light design at your retail location, a lighting contractor or designer is your best bet. In addition to providing expert guidance on driving positive results through smart light design, they can also offer further information on specific rebates and incentives around energy-efficient implementations that can help give your store the kind of look, feel — and utility costs — you want.


To learn more about how LED lighting can benefit your business, download the “Guide to Lighting Controls and Occupancy Sensors” from PG&E.



1.      https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/guide_to_energy_efficient_lighting.pdf

2.      https://www.contechlighting.com/en/docs/contechretaillightingguide2018.pdf

3.      https://www.energy.gov/eere/ssl/articles/analysis-color-rendition-specification-criteria

4.      https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/led-lighting