6 Ways Optimal Lighting Could Lead to Improved Retail Sales

An apple so delicious-looking you can practically taste it on your tongue. A diamond so sparkly it beckons. A silk tie that’s exactly the right shade of blue.

What makes these products look so appealing that shoppers are inspired to open their wallets? In a word, lighting.
Across a variety of retail settings, the right lighting can help drive increased revenue by optimizing the shopping experience — making stores more appealing to enter, encouraging customers to inspect the merchandise, and yes, presenting that merchandise in its best possible “light.”

While energy savings is typically the primary driver of lighting retrofits, the possibility of boosting sales is something to consider. In a survey by California utility Pacific Gas & Electric and the University of California, Davis, of retailers across various market segments, 47 percent said the potential to increase sales was an even more compelling reason to upgrade to LED lighting than energy cost savings. In grocery stores, the federal government’s Energy Star program found that upgrading to LED lighting resulted in a 19 percent increase in sales.

What is it about a well-designed LED lighting system that has the power to impact the bottom line? There are several factors.


6 ways lighting improves retail sales - Color

When it comes to lighting in retail spaces, color temperature tuning counts, since different color temperatures make different products look their best.

For example, an apple will have a greyish cast under cool (blue) 5,000 Kelvin light but appear downright tantalizing under warm (red) light. Light in the middle range, around 3,500 K, works well for meat cases because it makes beef, pork and chicken look fresh. Cool light in the 4,200 K to 5,000 K range enhances the visual appeal of seafood and ensures that ice looks white, not yellow. In a jewelry store, very cool light (6,000 to 7,000 K) makes diamonds and gems sparkle.

Cool light can make a room feel larger, while warmer ambient lighting can create an intimate, inviting atmosphere. A study in a Dutch food co-op found that customers spent more time in areas lit with warmer light compared with those lit with cooler light.

In many cases, the ability to easily change the color temperature via controls — rather than be stuck with one temperature or have to change each lamp to change the temperature — is important. Tunable white LEDs offer this flexibility, which is especially convenient for retailers who often reset displays or sections of their store.

Adding lighting controls could be as simple as installing one or more remote control-enabled fixtures. Advanced building controls are more sophisticated solutions that allow you to control all the lighting under one roof.


 6 ways lighting improves retail sales - Intensity

Light intensity matters, too. Intensity that is too low means a consumer can’t see the product as well — and no one wants to buy mystery meat, or any other mystery product. Lighting that’s too intense, especially if it’s incandescent lighting, can accelerate food discoloration.

Color Rendering Index

The color rendering index (CRI) measures how faithfully light reveals an object’s color characteristics compared to ideal or natural light. In a guide for grocery stores on improving energy savings, the U.S. Department of Energy addresses how lighting design can help stores boost sales and recommends a CRI of 80 or above on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 indicating the highest color-rendering capability.

With high CRI lighting and the right CCT, consumers can tell how orange that carrot really is and feel confident in knowing the exact shade of that nail polish, sports coat or pashmina. If customers have to guess how something will look outside the store, they may not buy it. In a fitting room, high CRI lighting can show what clothes will look like on the street.


6 ways lighting improves retail sales - Contrast

Why is a shopper drawn to a certain guitar or rack of headphones or special offer display? It could be the accent lighting.

Lighting designers consider light in three “layers”: ambient, task and accent. Accent lighting that contrasts with dimmer ambient lighting draws a shopper’s focus to a product or space and makes it easier to see product features such as texture or stitching. Accent lighting is also useful in store windows to highlight certain products and create drama.

Lighting Placement

6 ways lighting improves retail sales - Lighting Placement

The placement and direction of light matters immensely. For example, in the fitting room, downlights can make shoppers look ghastly, while vertical linear lights on either side of the mirror can make the clothes, and the person wearing them, look fabulous. Outside the fitting room, vertical lighting helps customers navigate the store. Shelf-integrated lighting that targets the lower third of shelves inspires shoppers to linger longer.

A Differentiated Experience

A thought leadership white paper on reinventing retail (PDF) co-authored by IBM and New York University’s Stern School of Business points out that brick-and-mortar stores competing with online retail for dollars have to provide a fresh, unique or visually exciting shopping experience to motivate consumers to enter and browse. Businesses must use their stores as a “competitive weapon” to raise the bar and create something new and eye-catching in a physical space, they note.

Without a doubt, lighting can help create a uniquely inviting or intriguing ambience that lures in consumers who might otherwise pass by. With advanced lighting control systems, retailers can even tailor lights’ intensity, color and temperature for different situations and times of day to create the ultimate shopping experience — and boost the chances of a sale.

Todd Tiberi


Todd Tiberi
Todd is the Director of Project Development with Wesco's energy solutions group. With an Advertising/PR degree from Pennsylvania State University and NCQLP-LC certification, Todd has held many sales roles and management positions. His key projects focus on LED Lighting Upgrades.