Shine a light: the impact of lighting on your store

Shine a light: the impact of lighting on your store

Retail lighting is one of the most important elements of store design and can have a substantial impact on sales. You can create beautiful product displays, but if they aren’t lit properly, all that work goes to waste.

Balancing the practicalities of displaying your merchandise with atmosphere and dramatic impact can be a challenge, so here are some of the basics of retail lighting design.

Cost of retail lighting

Lighting is likely to be one of your biggest investments in terms of store design. It’s estimated that 43% of your energy costs are likely to go on it, and that’s after your initial investment in any kind of lighting rig. But scrimp on this design element and you could be compromising sales if merchandise isn’t displayed to best advantage.

Ambient lighting

Choosing the level of ambient light – the general light in the store – is crucial. Compare a brightly lit a pound shop or branch of Primark to the warm, welcoming low light of a luxury boutique and it’s clear how different light levels send different brand messages.

Brighter isn’t always better, and low light can indicate a premium brand, but it’s crucial to balance this with merchandise display. If you have low ambient light levels, how will you light displays to keep the focus on your product?

Task lighting

Task lighting highlights areas of the shop that perform functions – cash desks, changing rooms, help desks. Customers can perform a particular task more effectively if they can orientate themselves in-store to the area that’s lit up

Decorative lighting

Decorative lighting is an additional way that creates a particular atmosphere in store.  It might add to the ambient light, but most notably its main function is visual impact.

Lighting Image 1

Types of retail lighting: accent

Accent lighting is used in conjunction with ambient lighting to highlight displays. The fittings required will depend on your merchandise. Mannequin displays will require a wider beam to highlight than a display of jewellery.

Lighting Image 2

In this Diesel store, low ambient light, accent and decorative light are combined to create a treasure-trove feel to this display.

Using natural light

Retailers are increasingly incorporating natural light into their visual merchandising. Department stores like Macy’s that traditionally covered windows entirely with displays are opening them up again to bring in light from outside. Above all, natural light makes shoppers feel good and displays merchandise colour accurately.

Consider how you moderate natural light to deal with very sunny or overcast days and how you’ll light the store at night. One option is to use a thin curtain material that lets through light but cuts out bright sunshine. You can also balance out natural light with lamps to even the overall effect and avoid silhouettes. Some systems offer sensors that will adjust lamps as the light level outside changes.

Natural light

Natural light is used to bring out the contrast of natural tones and bold colours in this display at the Revival store in Chattanooga, USA.


Lamps have individual colour tones that give different effects in an overall lighting scheme. The Colour Rating Index (CRI) of a lamp measures its ability to display colours accurately compared to natural light; the lower the rating, the more accurately colours are displayed. A low CRI would be appropriate to changing rooms where customers want to view a garment as it will appear outside the store.

Flexible Systems

Ideally, your system should be flexible so that you can redirect lights depending on your displays. A track system with adjustable lamps allows you to combine flood fittings that give an ambient light to the whole store with spot fittings for highlighting particular areas.

Track systems are a substantial investment, but at the very least you should ensure you have the ability to highlight key displays and attractive merchandise separately from the ambient light

Alternatives to Lighting

We’ve covered using windows for natural light, but you can also bounce around more light with mirrors and reflective surfaces. Similarly, your colour scheme will also have an impact on how your design works.

Spot light

A children’s clothing boutique uses bold colour to underpin a lighting design.

Image Credits

“Fashion boutique decorative lighting”: Brobbel Interieur,

“Lighting installation at Diesel Denim Gallery, Tokyo”: Diesel,

“Petit Bateau store”: Zisla Tortello,

“Revival, Chattanooga”: Revival,

“A Frame lighting rig”: Dezeen,