Noticeable Difference

by Katie Lee

LED lighting in retail stores helps draw consumers’ attention to tangible products they can see and touch — highlighting a distinct advantage over online shopping.

By Dwayne Kula

As retail stores face strong competition from the world of online retailers, they can’t ignore the Number 1 advantage they have over any online retail outlet: the ability to let customers see and touch your products in person.

Proper illumination can play a big role in how merchandise is perceived, both from window shoppers to inside the retail location. There are many considerations when it comes to lighting, from the technology to placement — all of which are extremely critical to get right for a great customer experience.

Collectively, lighting is important. How each area of a retail store is lit, however, can vary and requires different considerations. From the entrance, outdoor display windows and shelves, to the checkout. In general, they all follow similar guidelines but how they are approached can vary.

Entrance Lighting

Setting the tone starts with all of the exterior lighting. This is especially true for those few steps right before entering the store.

Setting the tone (or mood) is critical for all stores, especially those that are looking to attract certain set of people. For example, a bright and crisp entrance may invite those who expectant of a general store. Think of your big box stores that offer everything under the sun. They don’t want to target any specific person but rather appeal to everyone in a professional manner.

main imageAbove all, you need to make your exterior entrance lighting look inviting. Flickering and buzzing lights do nothing but push people away from entering that store and moving on to the next one. Curb appeal should be the desired outcome. Since LEDs offer a crisp, high-quality light that will never flicker or buzz, they help create a professional store entrance — which is the first step in all of this: getting them through the doors.

Display Windows

Display windows to the outside world are critical to getting people in the doors, especially in high foot traffic areas. Even if foot traffic is not high, display windows can grab relevant prospects attention from afar if done properly.

The purpose of display windows is just that: to display the items the store has to offer. To go a step further, it’s about showcasing what the store is and who it’s for. If the lighting in these display windows is unprofessional, it will do nothing but harm the curb appeal yet again.

Equally important, though, is how the items in the window are being showcased. If the lighting is not directly on any specific item(s), people won’t know what exactly to look at. If there are props involved, they may confuse the store with selling those props in some cases. By taking advantage of showcase lighting, which can be done with properly placed track lights or directional lighting fixtures, a store can effectively communicate what the store offers in a quick glance.

Remembering that if people need to analyze the window for too long because they are confused by what the store offers, it can cause people to move on and not enter the store. Grabbing people’s attention needs to be quick, unconscious and slick.

external lighting window shoppingThis is easily achieved by ensuring the products being showcased are clearly the focus. It’s recommended that to really grab attention, the item of focus needs to be directed with 5 times (or more) amount of light than the surrounding area. The reasoning behind this is that the human eye does not pick up on double the amount of light and will only really start noticing after 3 times or more amount of light is present. So to make things truly stand out, retail locations are directing light all the way up to 10 times brighter than the surrounding areas to truly make things pop.


Most of the shopping people do is down aisles. Depending on how the store is set up, this can vary, but typically logical product placement is conducted as to what goes where on the shelves.

This logical placement can be affected by lighting, too, and it plays a big role in where attention is drawn. Making sure shadows aren’t prevalent where key products are will ensure attention is drawn to them.

Consider products at the very bottom or very top of the shelves. Commonly, less sold or lower margin items go here. But, if lighting gives more attention to these areas or equally as much as the middle where the attention should be going, it can mess up the directed shopping experience and lead people to areas which are less profitable. Direct light so that these main items are clearly the highlight of the aisle to draw attention back to the items that important to a stores sales and profit margins. To achieve this, track lights are typically added to the store’s overall lighting, which add extra light to the areas of importance.

If the theme of the store is based in dark (meaning no general lights to illuminate everything at equal levels), this is even easier to achieve simply by ensuring the lights are directed to the exact products you want to be noticed. If the store does have these general lights, there will need to be extra lighting pointed in these areas in the amount of 3 times or more than the surrounding areas.


Customers at the checkout are pretty much locked in with buying whatever they have picked up throughout the store. Depending on the type of store, though, cross-sale items are found at the checkout area. Although these items often are overlooked — and it has a lot to do with lighting.

Considering that these upsells are lit with normal light, they will not stick out. Similar to banner ads on the web being ignored by visitors, these cross-sale racks are usually overlooked. Implement extra lighting to highlight these items and draw attention to them. Add more lighting to them in the amount of three times or more of their surroundings, and also change the color temperature to achieve higher contrast to make these items truly pop at the checkout area.

To achieve this optimal contrast, make sure the color temperature matches the items at the checkout. As a general guideline, warmer colors look better in a color temperature of around 2800k to 3500k. For cooler colors, they look best in the 3500k to 5000k range. This also goes for the entire store to ensure everything looks as it should and not look worse simply due to a poor color temperature in the area.

All Around Considerations

No matter which light we are talking about — exterior, interior or at the checkout — they all have similarities that should be kept in mind when designing a proper lighting system in a retail location. These considerations can be applied to every aspect of the lighting system, and are all achievable with LED:

  • Highlighting what’s important is the Number 1 way to draw attention back to what matters. Doing this in excess of 3 times the amount of surrounding illumination will bring optimal results.
  • Curb appeal is what draws relevant customers in. An unprofessional lighting system will drive new and existing customers away at a high rate.
  • Flickering and buzzing lights is never acceptable — this is resolved simply by converting to LED which will never do either.
  • Natural lighting should be used when circumstances allow for it. Natural light is known best to render colors perfectly above any artificial lighting fixture, which can improve visual appeal.
  • Directional lighting is best achieved with LED as, by nature, it is a directional light source. Compared with other technologies which simply reflect the light to the desired location, LED does not require that and can put light exactly where desired. This can be critical for retail operations looking to highlight certain items or areas.
  • Ensuring the proper color temperature matches the items being displayed is equally important as having that extra light there. Make sure to follow proper temperatures depending on the color being displayed to showcase the items at their best.

Additional benefits of LED

Along with direct benefits of increased sales from an upgrade to LED and proper placement of lights comes the additional cost saving benefits most companies look at when converting to LED. These benefits include cost savings from two main ways: energy savings and increased lifespans.

Energy Savings

When converting away from lighting technologies like metal halide, HPS, or even fluorescent, companies are known to realize cost savings all the way up to 75%.

These savings alone allow companies to realize a positive return on their investment in just a few years, in some cases. For this reason, it is the primary benefit that allows companies to consider this technology for reducing overhead costs and increasing the bottom line.

Increased Lifespan

An increase of lifespan by two to three time is very common when converting to LED. It saves money too: the less often you need to buy replacement lights every time the old ones burn out, the more money you’ll save. Instead of having to buy replacement bulbs after 15,000 hours, which is common with other lighting technologies, retail stores are now only having to buy replacements every 50,000 hours or longer if taken care of properly.

The indirect cost-saving benefit is the costs associated with paying someone to replace these bulbs. Assuming a two to three time increase in lifespan means paying someone to replace those burnt out lights can decrease as well by two to three times. Not only is that a major cost saver, but also possible down time in the store can be reduced by the less often need to replace these lights. Together, increased lifespan brings many cost saving benefits in and of itself, which is critical to a retail store’s bottom line.

By following these best practices, retail stores can really shine and see improved sales that may have been left on the table otherwise. It’s a win-win: utilizing LED improves illumination and reduces energy consumption.


— Dwayne Kula is the founder of, which helps facility managers, small businesses, and Fortune 500’s with commercial and industrial LED lighting. Email the author at [email protected].

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