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Retail Lighting Design Guide — Everything You Need to Know

Mitchell Elworthy

Thoughtful lighting design is crucial to the success of any brick-and-mortar retail business. 

Proper lighting draws customers into your shop and guides them through the store once they're inside. If you find that customers routinely pass over merchandise and neglect certain corners of the store, it might be time to revamp your lighting situation. 

To find out how retail lighting design can enhance your brand and boost profits, read on!

The Principles of Retail Lighting Design

Before you start buying light fixtures and placing them around your space, it is important to understand a few key concepts about lighting design. These principles must be applied throughout the entirety of the store. No one will wander to the back of your store if it is dark back there! 

Accenting

Accenting is achieved with a spotlight or any other form of focused, moderately bright light. You should focus accent on merchandise, sale signage, or anything else the customer needs to see. 

You don't want to put accents on decorative items that aren't for sale, on the floor, or on anything else that the customer can't purchase or interact with. 

These lights shouldn't be too bright. A store full of harsh spotlights has an unnatural and confusing appearance. You'll want to save your brightest lights for your featured items. 

Creating Ambience

To make your accent lighting really pop, you need to establish ambient lighting throughout the store. This needs to be a soft wash of light that covers areas of circulation and decorative elements of the store. 

This way, your store has enough light to be safe, functional, and inviting. At the same time, the light is dim enough to allow some contract with your accent lights. This really elevates your accented merchandise and signage above the rest of the store. 

Features

Features are a great way to draw customers into your store. This will be your brightest lighting. Make sure you only feature your most eye-catching products or services. 

A common mistake is to put your feature right at the front of the store. Instead, but your feature in the middle or even towards the back of the store. This will make customers curious enough to venture deeper into the space. 

Wayfinding

If your store has multiple aisles, rooms, or levels, customers will inevitably have trouble finding their way. Wayfinders are a subcategory of accent light that points to restrooms, passageways, exits, or anything else that the customer needs to see to navigate the store. 

Vertical Lighting

Focus your lighting on vertical surfaces, like walls and merchandise displays. Lighting this way helps to enhance the feeling of depth in your retail space. This gives the customer the feeling of a light and airy atmosphere. 

Thanks to the advent of LED bulbs, light fixtures can be made smaller than ever. Vertical LED light fixtures can be tucked into corners or hidden behind cabinets to create a seamless, natural glow in your store. 

Horizontal lighting, on the other hand, serves only to light the floor and the few displays that get direct light from the ceiling. Anything under a shelf will be in shadow. This lighting system may be functional, but it doesn't evoke any mood, highlight your products, or guide your customers. 

Color Temperature

Be sure to check the color temperature of your lights before buying. You want to be sure all of the lights have the same color temperatures. Mixing color temperatures in the same space creates a busy and unprofessional look. You don't want the lights to distract from your product. 

Color temperature is measured in Kelvins (K), with the lowest number being the warmest (most red, similar to candlelight) and the highest being the most blue (similar to daylight). 

Warm lighting creates a cozy and relaxed atmosphere, perfect for a bookstore or cafe. Cold lighting works best for stores where customers need a clear sense of what the products look like. Cold lighting would make sense in an art supply store, where customers need to colors accurately. 

Types of Light Fixtures

Now that you know how to light things, you'll need to look into the actual light fixtures that will be in your store. The fixtures you choose have a major impact on the look of your business and the lighting options you will have open to you. 

Track Lighting

Track lights are one of the most popular and versatile types of light fixtures on the market today. 

You can go with straight track lights, which are ideal for businesses that have many products on display. The track lights give you a row of spotlights, giving your space the feeling of an art gallery. The stark straight lines also contribute a flair of minimalism. 

Circular track lighting is another great option. By arranging track lights around the entire perimeter of your ceiling, you create a halo of light that bathes your store in a soft ambient glow. This is a great setup for stores without much natural light or that are open late at night. 

Usually, track lights are blended into the ceiling. But you could go the opposite route and make the lights part of the decor. There is a huge selection of track lights that are more like a functional sculpture. 

If you have the right space and a bit of imagination, these could perform double-duty as a functional retail tool and as eye-candy for the customers.

LED Downlights

If track lighting is a little too obtrusive or industrial for your tastes, you might prefer LED downlights. Downlights are light sources that have been recessed into the ceiling or wall. 

You can find downlights that provide a wide ambient light. Others have a powerful, focused beam, perfect for accents. 

Read more on choosing the right downlight.

Strip Lighting

Strip lighting is the ultimate in modern hi-tech lighting solutions. These ultra-thin, weightless strips of LED bulbs can be attached to the bottoms of shelves or along walls to illuminate and give depth to spaces that, in the past, went ignored. 

Just like any other LED product, they are available in a wide range of color temperatures. 

If you want to give your business a hip, metropolitan edge, strip lighting could be just the trick. 

Start Building Your Lighting Design Plan

You now have the foundational knowledge you need to put together your own retail lighting design. It may take some trial and error, but you will be amazed at how much a lighting overhaul can boost the value of your business.  

To help you save time and money, we recommend learning more about light bulbs. Choosing the right light bulb can make a huge impact on the look and cost of your store. 

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