Shape Up Your Retail Store's Energy Efficiency

Shape Up Your Retail Store’s Energy Efficiency

By Alice Bredin

Retailers know that keeping customers comfortable can encourage them to linger and spend money. Maintaining a well-lit and climate-controlled environment may boost energy use, but you can keep costs in check by using some widely available tools to trim expenses while creating an inviting environment.

Review the following areas to find energy-saving ideas for your business.

Use lighting controls
Using motion-sensor lighting controls lets you illuminate little-used spaces in your business, like back office spaces or storerooms, only when you need to. Occupancy and vacancy sensors can cut energy used on lighting by as much as 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.1

Motion sensors are available at home hardware stores or online, in a variety of options. Choosing the right type for your business will help you to gain the most savings. They include:

  • Vacancy sensors, which switch off when a room is empty but must be turned on when you walk in
  • Dual occupancy/vacancy sensors, which detect when someone walks into a room as well as when they leave it

Some of the more expensive models offer a combination of these features.

Prevent drafts
Revolving or automatic doors can be a big help in cutting down on energy costs since they drastically reduce the amount of temperature-controlled air that escapes when customers enter the store. Revolving doors exchange eight times less air with the outside world than conventional doors, according to research from MIT.2 Automatic doors also offer energy benefits since the tight seals on the doors and limited opening times reduce the amount of outside air exchange.

To find a local installer who can work with you to replace your doors, ask a commercial architect for a recommendation or check the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers’ list of certified inspectors.

Consider the following points when you are reviewing energy-efficient doors:

  • Look for automatic or revolving doors with low-power motors.
  • Make sure revolving and automatic doors come with tight seals to increase the “airlock” effect.
  • If your store is low-traffic, look into low-energy swinging doors, which can be operated both manually and automatically.

Lower usage during off-hours
Just as people often do at home, retailers may leave electronics plugged in 24 hours a day, as they assume these devices use barely any power as long as they’re either off or in “sleep” mode. However, inactive appliances siphon off a cumulative $19 billion in electricity costs per year across the U.S., according to the National Resources Defense Council.3 Institute a store policy of cutting the power to all electronics before closing up shop for the night, and hang up a sign to remind employees to do this as well. An easy way to accomplish this, rather than manually unplugging everything, is to use a multi-outlet power strip and simply switch that off.

Some exceptions to after-hours power usage may be unavoidable, but you can still mitigate the electricity drain. For example, retailers keep some lighting on at night to deter theft. In this case, swap out all incandescent and fluorescent bulbs with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which use far less electricity.

Install a programmable thermostat
A digital programmable thermostat may help improve efficiency by ensuring that heating and air conditioning are set at appropriate levels around the clock. It can be programmed to bring the store to your desired temperature before you open for the day and to adjust the temperature near closing time so that climate-control systems use less energy after you lock up for the night. Some also have settings for different days of the week, if, for example, you open later on Sundays. In regions with mild winters, lowering the target temperature by 10 or 15 degrees for eight hours can save up to 15 percent on your heating bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.4

Many thermostats are marketed to homeowners, but they also work for businesses. Shop for one at a home goods store and check to ensure it will be adequate for a location of your size. Install these thermostats on interior walls, away from direct sunlight or drafts from open doors or windows. Also make sure that no furniture or shelving is in front of the thermostat, as that can block air flow and lead to inaccurate temperature readings.

Retail owners attract customers in part by creating a welcoming shopping experience, but a few smart steps can keep you from running up your energy bill in the process. Take a look at your business and see if some of these ideas might work for you.

For more information on how to spot inefficiencies with HVAC, download PG&E’s "11 Areas of HVAC Waste in Businesses" infographic. Download PG&E’s "Guide to Lighting Controls and Occupancy Sensors" for help figuring out which control system might work best for you.


  1. U.S. Department of Energy (, “Energy Lifehack: Ditch the Switch!”
  2. Cullum, B.A. et al. “Modifying Habits Towards Sustainability: A Study of Revolving Door Usage on the MIT Campus.” Planning for Sustainable Development
  3. National Resources Defense Council, “Home Idle Load”
  4. U.S. Department of Energy (, “Thermostats"

Shape Up Your Retail Store's Energy Efficiency
  • SMB Blog Author
    Alice Bredin
    Alice Bredin is an internationally renowned small business expert and author. Small business owners worldwide have relied on her books and columns to improve their productivity and success. She is a former small business commentator for public radio's Marketplace program and has helped shape small business policies through her testimony to the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. Alice is president of Bredin, Inc., a B2B marketing agency that helps the Fortune 500 sell to small and midsize businesses.

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