Taking Aim

by Nate Hunter

It all begins with light. Have your lighting provider develop aiming guidelines to ensure your store doesn’t fall victim to dull, flat lighting.


Walk into any retail store and immediately you’ll notice one thing: the merchandise. This is by design. Dozens of people spent hundreds of hours designing and planning this store specifically to enhance your shopping experience. From the location of the fixtures and placement of the merchandise down to the amount of wax they use on the floor, every detail is meticulously planned and maintained. But turn out the lights, and nobody can see a thing.

It all begins with light. The lighting designers take the entire brand into consideration and understand that effective lighting creates ambiance. What kind of atmosphere is this retailer trying to create? What are the key areas that they want to highlight? The distributor takes the design and ensures that the lamps and fixtures specified are the ones that make it into the store.

If so much attention goes into planning and designing the lighting, why should you ever walk into a store that just feels…flat?

When store operations finds that the lighting has degraded, they’ll call their corporate headquarters to request that they install additional lights. Often, however, all it takes is to move the lighting up to eye level, washing the light over product displays and creating various focal points to draw the eye.

One simple way to help maintain the integrity of the lighting design is by educating your store associates on the importance of aiming the lights. If the lights are aimed at the floor or below eye level, they aren’t showcasing the merchandise and all the design that went into the lighting is lost. Your store’s lighting provider should have Lighting Certified (LC) professionals on staff that can walk into your store and, in many cases, without adding any lights or increasing energy consumption, make the merchandise pop. By simply changing the direction of the light, you can create a level of drama, customers can more easily distinguish between colors, and you will ultimately enhance the customer experience.

Having your lighting provider develop aiming guidelines is one way to ensure your store doesn’t fall victim to dull, flat lighting. It’s degrading and just bad for your brand image. Aim the light where it should be — at eye level and on merchandise — to make it more appealing and give it that “pop.” Lighting Certified professionals know it intuitively, but there’s a bit of science behind it as well. That “pop” is directly attributed to contrast ratios or how the lighting creates different levels of contrast in different areas of the store.

Without getting too technical, the degree to which we introduce various levels of contrast is known as the contrast ratio. The ratio is the difference between the brightest area of a display and the darkest area.

With a higher ratio, the lighting shows greater contrast — this is where you would want to highlight featured merchandise. A lower contrast ratio provides more uniform lighting.  This type of lighting may be more ideal in retail stores that need consistent, level lighting throughout an entire area — perhaps for the purpose of product identification or customer navigation. Lighting is more profound than just lamps and switches. Each retail brand will have unique requirements that call for their lighting to address specific needs and to support their brand goals, whether it’s to offer more visual comfort or to highlight areas of focus and visual interest. Regardless of your needs, the contrast ratio will play a part in creating your environment.

Creating an aiming plan is crucial. You don’t want your associates just randomly changing lamp directions and painting themselves into a corner. The goals are always the same, whether you’re creating a low-key or high-key area. Every display should have lighting. Ambient light should be adequate. And safety is always a consideration.

What are some basic tips you can take away while you and your lighting provider are creating aiming guidelines? First, ensure that all light bulbs are lit. Have a plan before beginning to re-aim your light. Be sure to make adjustments every time you move your displays. In general, you’ll want to ensure that the most intense portion of the light is concentrated on the center of your display.  Aim lights to wash a consistent flow of light over your displays, and then create drama and specific focal points by increasing your contrast ratios. There are some cool effects that you can create by overlapping light beams and increasing contrast ratios. You should be able to discuss your lighting needs with your lighting provider to work on the best solution for your store.

Some definite no-no’s when aiming light on your merchandise? Never aim a lamp at the floor, wasting the light. And NEVER aim it towards the flow of traffic, blinding your guests, unless of course that’s your intent.

Something as simple as aiming the light where it should be can make all the difference in the environment that your store creates. And after spending so much effort on the design, it’s the least you can do to ensure that your brand stays in a good light.







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