Light is essential for human life, as such what is the importance of light in our field, and can different retail lighting techniques affect the success of retail display?

In today’s market retail companies need to consider how they want their customers to feel when they visit their store. Several factors can affect this such as the layout of the premises, the music being played, the design and the colour scheme. The factor which in the past was overlooked, is the types of lighting in retail stores; this is now seen as one of, if not the main factor to be considered.

 “Lighting has a direct influence on our mood, with 80% of the sensory information the brain receives coming from our eyes. Lighting highlights architectural elements, product qualities and creates virtual spaces - impacting how we feel, what we think of a product, and ultimately the choice of whether to purchase or not”

Mihaly Bartha, Head of Lighting at GPStudio

The use of light in retail stores must be considered at each stage of a customer’s journey, there will be great differences in lighting and the mood/reaction they want to create from the store front to the store's displays and even the payment area.


Types of Retail Lighting Techniques

Four main types of lighting in retail stores: Ambient lighting, Task lighting, Accent lighting and decorative lighting.

  • Ambient lighting in retail design is the main lighting ensuring customers have enough general lighting to feel comfortable in the store.
  • Task lighting is a more focused technique in retail, it is used in areas of a store where more light is needed to perform certain tasks for instance changing rooms or checkout areas.
  • Accent lighting is technique used to emphasise a certain display or area within a store, to attract a customer’s eye; this could be a piece of artwork, jewellery within cases or a shelving display.
  • Finally, Decorative lighting, this is mainly to add to the look and feel of the store with a decorative fixture.

With the introduction of new technologies in the lighting industry such as LED’s it is now possible to completely incorporate lighting into almost any interior, this integrated lighting creates unlimited opportunities. Unibox Retail worked with Carphone Warehouse to create a display incorporating our own high performance LED’s, a side-lit panel display was used to draw the customer’s attention directly to the products.

A study was made by the Lighting Laboratory at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology; they explored the extent to which lighting influenced consumers’ individual preferences

  • Consumers’ preference of warm lighting and moderate brightness.
  • Participants preferred brighter lighting within shop windows.
  • Vertical rather than horizontal lighting helped products stand out from the background more effectively.
  • Varying lighting was also appealing, such as altering the colour according to the time of day or when a particular product was being promoted.


Would it be an error to assume then that the well-lit products outperform others? Looking at a study developed by Hamburg University of Applied Sciences using eye-tracking technology to monitor exactly where a customer looks when presented with lighting schemes in different stores, results were surprising.

People’s eyes were naturally drawn to areas of contrast, rather than the most brightly lit areas and were attracted to areas of blue light more than any other colour.

So we see there are trends to lighting effectively but that’s not to say to follow them ensures success and to ignore invites failure. Many brands choose their own lighting styles to match their brand image. Looking at two very different approaches to the norm, firstly we look at the Apple store which continues with its clean, crisp and vibrant approach straight through to its store lighting. They have a bright diffused lighting to reduce glare and harsh shadows, along with back illuminated surfaces with cold colours gives the store a spacious, state of the art look and feel which matches the products they sell.

On the other end of the light spectrum is fashion store Hollister, they choose very dimly lit stores with strategically placed low lighting to draw the eye to certain products. We assume this is to create a laid back, beach-club style environment or perhaps they are saving on electricity? However, it seems the Hollister stores didn’t get the results they were aspiring to.

Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is preparing to reposition its surfer-themed Hollister chain as a fast-fashion brand, hoping to better compete with rivals such as H&M and Forever 21 Inc. that have eaten into sales to teens.

Wall Street Journal

Lighting is now a major component affecting the success of retail, with the options available to customers in most sectors a company must strive to catch the eye and give the individual the best experience which will then hopefully lead to a sale.


See our Retail Design Blog for retail store lighting ideas, and for inspiration on the importance of lighting in retail stores. 

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