Transform a Retail Business with Interior LED Lighting

Kelly Cunningham
A retail business

Creating an appealing visual environment – whether it is for clothing, groceries or other retail products – is integral to building a successful retail business. Commercial lighting products are an important part of this process. However, lighting energy use in retail stores is often a significant portion of the electric bill.


In the past, retailers relied on halogen and incandescent lamps to illuminate displays with a warm, inviting glow. These sources dimmed well and rendered reds richly. Reluctance to switch to lighting emitting diode (LED) products, even though they greatly reduced energy use, was often tied to uncertainty that LEDs could deliver the same type of lighting.


Technology advances over the past five years have brought forth a variety of products that are ready to serve visually demanding retail environments, while also decreasing the energy usage previously required to appropriately and strategically illuminate retail spaces. The time to switch and save is now.


How does LED performance compare to conventional lighting technologies?

Lighting performance is measured in several ways, including power (W), voltage (V), luminous output (lumens), correlated color temperature (CCT), color rendering index (CRI), rated life (lifespan) and lumen maintenance (i.e., how well the light output of a device holds up over time).


Just a few years ago, many LED lamps (bulbs) and luminaires came up short in some or all of these categories when compared to conventional lighting technologies. However, with the rapid evolution of LED technology, that has changed.1 LEDs now offer comparable, if not superior, performance when juxtaposed against conventional lighting technologies.


Many retail businesses relied on incandescent or halogen PAR 38 bulbs for their track lighting needs. However, LED replacements have been developed that surpass previous technologies in terms of lighting quality and savings.


For example, LED A19 lamp availability has significantly increased since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Commercially Available LED Product Evaluation and Reporting program. Not only are the A19 lamps more available, but results from the program show that the cost per lumen of A19 LED lamps dropped by 50% between August 2010 and November 2011.2 In addition to the combined longer lifetime of the lamps (rated lifetimes range from 10,000 to 50,000 hours), the A19 LED lamps provide retailers with the quality of lighting and the savings they need in a competitive marketplace.


LED Performance Database has developed a list of 33 products marked as replacements for 60W incandescents that save consumers on average 12W, an 80% savings over incandescents if used at full output.3


In a recent report, the DOE stated that “LEDs have surpassed conventional lighting technologies in terms of energy efficiency, lifetime, versatility and color quality.” The same report notes that LEDs have also become increasingly cost-competitive, a trend the DOE predicts will continue in the coming years, with LED market saturation reaching 75% by 2030.4


Currently, there are two approaches to upgrading to LED: Replace just the lamps or upgrade to integrated luminaires that cannot be converted back to other source types. As the market continues to mature, it is expected that more integrated luminaires will be used.


Why LEDs are great for retail lighting

Retail spaces can be enhanced with LED commercial lighting products in some of the following ways:


  • Directional lighting: LED lamps and luminaires give retailers the ability to concentrate lighting more specifically, focusing on particular products and spaces. Instead of replacing just the lamp in your track lighting, consider integrated LED track heads that offer excellent optics, a longer lifetime and typically superior dimming control when paired with the appropriate dimmers or scene controllers. Now, LED luminaires that include adjustable beam shapes and angles are available. These dynamic devices can be used to change the lighting as displays are changed.
  • Dimmability: Newer integrated LED luminaires designed for retail applications offer dimming down to 1%. Some products offer a “warm dimming” feature that shifts the color from cool to warm as the intensity is reduced. When paired with the proper dimming systems, newer LED replacement lamps such as PAR, BR, A-lamps and MR-16s dim to 10% as a standard feature.
  • Less maintenance: The longer lifespan of LEDs can be especially beneficial for luminaires in hard-to-reach places. Changing the lamps less often means less staff on ladders and more time for other tasks.
  • Variety of correlated color temperatures: LEDs offer a variety of CCTs for retailers to select from. This variety will allow retailers to select which color will highlight products best and create the atmosphere that matches their brand.
  • Color tuning: LED track lighting, troffers, select downlights and some replacement lamps now offer the ability to adjust the CCT. Highlight products with seasonal color differences by tuning luminaires with a remote control or software. Set new color scenes whenever they are needed.
  • Improved color rendering: Fluorescent sources, although capable of a high color rendering index score, were often purchased with a CRI of 80. LED products intended for retail environments are now available with CRIs ranging from 80 to 97.
  • Lower HVAC loads: Less heat means lower air conditioning needs. LEDs give off far less heat than predecessor lighting technology.
  • Adaptability to cold temperatures: LEDs have been proven to perform much more effectively than conventional commercial lighting products in cold spaces like refrigerators and freezers.
  • Product preservation: LEDs emit less ultraviolet radiation than incandescent and halogen lamps. UV can damage fabrics and inks over time.

5 ways retailers can use LEDs to improve aesthetic appeal


  1. LED luminaires and replacement lamps
    LEDs can provide soft, even light distribution, enhancing the colors and textures of merchandise. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) set up a faux boutique that was illuminated entirely with LED luminaires and replacement lamps, including parabolic aluminized reflector (PAR) and multifaceted reflector (MR) lamps. Retailers were invited to try them out at the boutique, and their responses indicated that LED luminaires and replacement lamps provided an improved interior aesthetic experience.
  2. Lighting controls that reduce energy costs
    Lighting controls, such as occupancy and photosensors, pair well with LEDs and can substantially reduce utility costs by reducing or turning off illumination when it is not needed. Occupancy sensors automatically turn lights off when a space isn't being used and are well suited to store rooms, bathrooms, small offices and intermittently used spaces. Photosensors automatically reduce lighting energy use when there is ample available daylight.
  3. Scene control
    The potential design effects created by pairing LEDs and dimmers makes for a wide range of lighting output options, giving retailers control over their indoor look and feel. While retailers have been able to use scene controls to create a certain atmosphere in their space for some time now, LED luminaires allow for more precision.
  4. Time-based scheduling
    Automatic time clocks allow retailers to set a lighting schedule that fits their specific needs and will automatically turn off lighting when programmed with the store's wide range of LEDs. Maximize investments in energy efficient lighting by turning off all lighting when the store is vacant. LEDs do not suffer shorter lifespans when cycled off and on, as fluorescent lamps did.
  5. Accent lighting
    Accent lighting that utilizes LEDs can be strategically placed to draw customers' attention to certain products. Accent light switches and controls should be placed in areas where the person managing them can see the effect of changing light levels on the space, and in places where unauthorized personnel are unable to change any settings. Balance out the effect by keeping ambient light levels lower.

Business lighting rebates for LEDs

Retailers who have considered switching to LEDs often cite upfront costs as a primary concern. That issue has been partially alleviated by the steadily declining prices of LEDs. Concerns are even further reduced due to the numerous business lighting rebates and incentives that are available.


As part of a broad effort to improve energy efficiency, utility companies (including PG&E) and government agencies offer many business lighting rebates and incentives for commercial customers who want to switch to LEDs.5 The rebates and incentives reduce or eliminate upfront costs of switching to LEDs, essentially turning future savings into added profit.


Working with a commercial lighting representative or contractor is a good way to find the LED products that are best for each business, as well as rebates and incentives that can reduce initial costs. For more information on finding and working with a lighting partner, please reference "The Complete Guide to Working with a Lighting or HVAC Contractor" eBook from PG&E.


Referenced in article:

  1. California Lighting Technology Center. Opens in new Window.
  2. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PDF, 3.2 MB). Opens in new Window.
  3. LED Performance Database. Opens in new Window.
  4. U.S. Department of Energy (PDF, 1.1 MB). Opens in new Window.
  5. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
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