How to Set Up Your Retail Lighting and Why It Matters?

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Why Retail Lighting Is Important to Your Business?

Retail lighting is a key component in making customers feel at home in your shop and enticing them to buy. The right retail lighting does much more than simply illuminate your retail space. It sets the mood and atmosphere, guides shoppers to key areas, and provides an overall backdrop for your customer experience.

Retail lighting can be broken down into four primary types: general/ambient lighting, task lighting, accent lighting, and decorative lighting. There are also many bulb options, like halogen, fluorescent, and LEDs. This retail store lighting guide will help you plan the right lighting.

Achieving the perfect retail lightscape isn’t difficult once you understand the principles and techniques behind designing a retail lighting plan. This guide will walk you through the process, step-by-step.

Four Different Types of Retail Lighting

Lighting-inspired moods are achieved by pairing two elements – light fixtures and light bulbs in various ways. How you combine these depends on your store’s lighting needs. In general, retail stores typically use some combination of four different lighting techniques to light up their space.

The four techniques are:

Accent Lighting:

Accent lighting is used to highlight specific areas, displays, and decor throughout your retail store. The purpose of accent lighting is to make products pop and add a sense of importance”. Various types of accent lighting are used to draw shoppers to particular areas in your store, such as products within shelving and nook displays, in windows, and on walls.

Accent lighting draws the eye to the elements that you want your customers to notice, like displays and featured items. Accent lighting can also be installed into cases or behind displays as backlighting and used to brighten dreary corners in your store. As a general rule, accent lighting is the answer for any display space that needs to be brightened or highlighted beyond the wash of ambient light in your store.

Task Lighting:

Task lighting is focused lighting used to illuminate areas where more lighting is needed for certain tasks or purposes. Store checkout counters, dressing rooms, service desks, and back-office and stockroom areas all benefit from task-specific lighting.

Decorative Lighting:

Decorative retail lighting adds a decorative element to the lighting tactics covered above. Decorative lighting is achieved by using a fixture with a certain aesthetic, such as a chandelier, set of pendant lights, or sleek track system to help define your store brand while filling an accent, task, or ambient lighting need. Decorative lighting is meant to be memorable, like these eye-catching orange chandeliers and mixed monochrome pendants. 

Read more: 11 Best Chandeliers to buy – Crystal & Foyer Chandeliers

General or Ambient Lighting:

General, also called ambient, lighting is the main light source for your store. Ambient lighting fills in the gaps between the lighting used to highlight displays, counters, corners, and shelves. The overall purpose of general/ambient retail store lighting is to make customers feel comfortable in the space and provide enough light to safely explore the entire store. Ambient lighting can make a statement or be a simple series of panels or recessed can lights. 


Bulbs & Fixtures Play a Key Role

Each of the four lighting methods covered above can be achieved using various light bulbs in fixtures that are strategically placed to illuminate certain areas of your store. Done correctly, your space will be awash in light, your displays will pop, and your customers will see all of your goods in their best light.

Retail Lighting: Bulb Brightness & Color

You first need to understand the two different ways that light is measured: color temperature and lumensEach of these two factors plays a role in creating the atmosphere you want to achieve in your retail lightscape.

Color Temperature = Color Tone of the Light

The tone of the light, warm or cool, is determined by its color temperature, and this is measured in Kelvin, shown as the letter K on bulb labels. As a rule of thumb, the higher the Kelvin, the whiter or cooler, the light that’s emitted from a bulb.

Kelvin (K) measures the temperature of a bulb and that temperature correlates to the color – warm, daylight, or cool, that the bulb emits. Warmer tones are at the lower end of the Kelvin scale, around 2000K to 3500K; daylight and cooler tones are 3600K and higher. This color temperature has a major effect on the ambience of your store. Warm temperatures are cozy and inviting while cooler temperatures impart a modern, crisp tone.

Warm tones and cool tones create entirely different moods in retail stores. You can mix various color temperatures throughout your space, but small stores tend to stick with one general color tone. Plus, your wall colors, ceiling heights, and the amount of natural light from windows all factor into selecting the right tone for your space.

Lumens = Brightness

Lumens are the measure of brightness that a single bulb or integrated LED light fixture emits. Watts, which is the measure of the energy a bulb uses, isn’t a reliable measure of brightness since energy-efficient fluorescent, halogen, and LED lighting emits more lumens per watt compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. So, lumens is the measurement you need to use when choosing bulbs for your retail lighting.

Lumens have overtaken watts as a way to determine the brightness of retail store lighting. In short, if you need a brighter light in a certain space, you need a bulb with higher lumens. You’ll use your total lumens to determine if you have enough light in your space. 

Retail Lighting – Bulb Types

It’s also important to know that the different types of light bulbs used in retail lighting offer a full range of light output (lumens) and color temperatures. Generally speaking, no one type of bulb is best for dim or bright uses or warm or cool tones. Nowadays, you can achieve most lighting schemes with any bulb type.


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Here are the three primary types of bulbs used in retail store lighting:

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Halogen Light Bulbs:

  • Average cost – Low to mid-range starting at around $2 per bulb for a recessed light bulb.
  • Operating life – Shortest of the three options.
  • Energy-efficiency – Lowest of the three options; uses more watts per lumen than the other two types of bulbs.
  • Color temperature range – Halogen bulbs come in the full spectrum of color temperatures – warm to cool.
  • Best for – Accent lights in retail spaces, task lighting, and decorative fixtures.

Halogen light bulbs are a low-cost alternative to LEDs for downlights, track, and accent lights. Halogen light bulbs are the modern version of the incandescent light. Halogen bulbs are less efficient than fluorescent and LED lighting, which we’ll cover next, so they cost more to operate over time. 

However, halogen bulbs are inexpensive and can be used in many existing incandescent fixtures, so they’re a cost-effective way to upgrade accent and task lighting in checkout areas, display units, and store windows.

Fluorescent Tubes and Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFL):

  • Average cost – Mid-range, starting around $4 per bulb for a recessed light bulb.
  • Operating life – Middle of the three options.
  • Energy-efficiency – Middle of the three options; uses more watts per lumen than LEDs but fewer than halogen bulbs.
  • Color temperature range – Fluorescent tubes and CFL bulbs come in the full spectrum of color temperatures—warm to cool.
  • Best for — General/ambient lighting and task lighting.

Fluorescent lighting comes in all shapes and styles. Fluorescent lighting is a popular choice for general ambient lighting, plus it comes in decorative options in both tube and compact bulb lighting suitable for accent and task lighting needs. 

Fluorescent lighting tends to be more expensive than halogen bulbs, but long-term, the operating costs are lower since it’s a more energy-efficient option.

LED Lighting:

  • Average cost – Most expensive, starting at $15 per bulb for a recessed light bulb.
  • Operating life – Longest of the three options.
  • Energy-efficiency – Best of the three options; uses far fewer watts per lumen than fluorescent and halogen bulbs.
  • Color temperature range – Like the other two bulb options, LEDs come in the full spectrum of color temperatures – warm to cool.
  • Best for – All types of retail lighting.

Energy-efficient LED lighting is available in a range of decorative options and color temperatures. Retail stores are quickly adopting LED lighting for the majority of their lighting applications. LED technology has grown tremendously in recent years, and you can find long-life LEDs for a wide variety of general, ambient, task, and accent lighting. 

In some applications, like spotlighting, halogen bulbs can still provide more color-accurate light, but overall, LEDs suit most lighting needs and help you save the most on energy costs long-term.


Fixtures Used in Retail Lighting

The three types of bulbs listed above, in any lumen and color temperature, can be used in a wide variety of light fixtures. Most retail store lighting combines several different types of fixtures with various bulbs to deliver the correct amount of light throughout the space.

Retail lighting can be installed using a wide variety of surface-mounted, suspended, and inset fixtures. In most cases, you can use whichever bulb you prefer with a wide variety of fixtures to create the look you desire.

Tips and Mistakes to Avoid in Your Retail Lighting Plan

Here are some things you can do to maximize the lighting in your plan and save money over time, plus a few things to avoid.

Be mindful of heat emissions

It is important to make sure that the heat emitted doesn’t cause discomfort or fade products, especially in customer-accessible spaces like shelving and displays. In terms of heat emitted, halogen lights are the warmest, LEDs coolest, and fluorescents fall in between.

Do Buy LED Bulbs by the Batch

LED bulbs can vary in color temperature, so try to buy LED bulbs from the same manufacturing lot and buy extras in the batch, so if you do have to replace a bulb, you’ll have a tone match.

Factor in Replacement & Energy Costs

The upfront cost is certainly an important consideration, but not the only one. When factoring your retail store lighting costs, consider your total energy cost and replacement bulb costs. This will help you to determine how much you will spend per year on lighting. This cost comparison of the three light sources will help you pick the right lighting option that best suits your needs.

Use Mirrors to Reflect Light & Brighten Your Store

Mirrors are an inexpensive way to boost the light throughout your space and brighten your store. Mirrors do double duty as decorative accents and serve utilitarian needs for customers trying on apparel or accessories. In spaces that need more light, a mirror is a low-cost alternative to adding new wiring and fixtures.

Use Dimmer Switches

Dimmer switches let you control the level of light usage in your store. Installing simple dimmers can help save a significant amount on your energy bills and gives you control over the ambience throughout the day. If you have natural light from windows, you can use less energy during daylight hours, then turn up the lights after the sun goes down.

Spend Your Money on Accent & Task Lighting

If you’re in a tight budget, put your money where it counts. In most stores, that’s your accent and task lighting. Accent and task lighting fixtures and bulbs are the most elements in your plan because they highlight your product and keep the work areas well-lit and productive. Fluorescent lighting is not a bad option for ambient and general lighting needs. It’s cost-effective and much more efficient than it used to be.

Final thoughts:

Designing retail lighting involves many factors. Bulbs of varying types, colors, and brightness pair with an array of fixtures to create accent, task, decorative, and ambient lighting for a wash of light throughout your retail space.

Either way, your retail store lighting needs to enhance both your customer experience and your brand. If you’re on a tight budget, focus your spending on your standouts – accent and task lighting needs, and incorporate decorative fixtures so these essential elements play a dual role. Then use less-costly ambient lighting, mirrors, dimmer switches, and energy-efficient bulbs to make the most of the lighting you have and save in the long run.

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