Many factors work together to create the look and feel of a store environment. In our latest trend report, we take a look at how neon-style signage and lighting is delivering an enhanced customer experience in 2016, helping retailers to stay ahead of the game, and, in turn, increase sales.


The history of neon

In 1902, the French engineer, chemist and inventor, Georges Claude created the world’s first neon light. Extracting neon – a colourless, odourless gas – from the atmosphere, Claude was the first person to apply an electrical discharge to a sealed tube of neon, creating the first neon lamp.

Eight years later, Claude displayed his neon lamp at the Paris Motor Show, and the first commercial neon sign was sold by Claude’s associate, Jaques Fonseque, in 1912 to a Parisian barber.

However, it was when Claude introduced his neon signs to America in 1923 that things really started to take-off, and throughout the 20s and 30s, elaborate neon advertising displays began to dominate downtown USA, in cities from California to New York.


Did you know?

Pure neon gas only produces shades of red, orange, and pink. Initially coined “liquid fire, it was the introduction of other gases and chemicals that led to the creation of multi-coloured “neon” signage. In the 1920’s, fluorescent glasses and coatings were developed to expand the range of colours available further, and since the 1950s, the development of phosphors for colour televisions created nearly 100 new colours for neon tube lighting.


In 1923, the Packard Company displayed one of the first commercial neon signs in America. Sitting on top of a hotel in downtown LA, "Packard" was highlighted in bright red letters with a rim of glowing blue and was at least 4 feet high (and the sign still exists today!).

With people driving long distances to see the sign, it literally stopped traffic. In response, retailers soon caught on to neon’s attention-grabbing potential. The very same year in London, Bovril installed the first neon sign at Piccadilly Circus, which was quickly followed by a riot of static and moving neon signs all vying to catch the eye.

Neon trend report

Of course by then, many signage companies had found ways to obtain patent rights to the neon process, and, in the 1940’s and 50s neon took over Vegas; with signs and animations illuminating the city streets in a riot of colour. 


However, there was a decline in neon’s popularity from the 1960s. It fell out of fashion as public tastes changed, and the cost of neon made it unviable for many businesses.

In 2011, an iconic 340sq ft. sign for electronic retailer Sanyo’s was the last neon sign to be removed from Piccadilly Circus, after being in place for 33 years.  


The neon renaissance

However, despite newer and less costly forms of signage, such as LED, neon has made somewhat of a resurgence of late, with both independent and multiple retailers using its retro appeal and bright colour rendition to catch the eye and attract customers.

Neon engages hearts and minds as well as the eye, with nostalgia playing no small part in its comeback. And, in 2015, neon was a key trend in retail, with most fashion brands using it to some degree or other due to the sheer brilliance of light it radiates.

When River Island launched its ”inspirational and glitzy” store at Birmingham’s Bullring Centre, for example, neon lighting was incorporated into the design to recreate the feeling of a fashion show or art exhibition. And the design clearly worked, with the store recently awarded the Realys Store Design of the Year Award. 


Modern-day neon designs

Neon doesn't come without its share of challenges, and, in particular, its reputation for fragility, high-temperature performance, and the need for specialist installation and fireman's switches remains a headache.

The good news for retailers who want to capitalise on the latest in-store lighting design trends, without the hassle, is that LED derivatives are appearing that can be used to replace neon, without compromising on aesthetics.

Capitalising on this trend, Nike has recently introduced stunning, visually alluring neon-like installations to its Flagship London stores, creating a flashing lightning bolt striking down onto a shattered podium.


Neonist - a modern alternative to neon

An illuminated signage solution with all of the glamour of neon, but none of the shortcomings of last century's technology, Neonist is a visually impactful, low voltage alternative to neon.

Created by Unibox, our relationship with Lumenal - a leading manufacturer of modular LED lighting solutions and part of the Unibox family -means that colour temperature, brightness levels, light distribution, and power management were all considered in the context of the manufacturing process. Engineered using a variety of design techniques, from laser-machining to 5 axis CNC machining, designs can be translated with accuracy and more precise shaping than ever before.


The benefits of Neonist:

  • Creates striking, evenly illuminated retail displays
  • A visually impactful, low voltage alternative to neon
  • Robust with solid acrylic lettering, not thin glass tubing
  • Significantly lower running costs in comparison to neon
  • Can be customised to your needs, colours, and specifications
  • Can be used to create curved and straight edge corners, depending on the design
  • Graphically versatile with the ability to recreate logos and lettering with more accuracy than traditional neon
  • Can be safely installed near merchandise without the risk of discolouring or damage
  • No need for a protective cover
  • No need for fire switches
  • Suitable for any retail environment.


With modern manufacturing techniques giving designers more control than ever before, neon-esque lighting solutions such as neonist are being used for a huge range of display purposes, from signage to visual merchandising, with retailers such as George at Asda and O2 capitalising on this trend at their Westfield Stratford City store.

Creating stunning, evenly illuminated retail displays that match the wow-factor of neon, with the energy efficient, long life properties of LED lighting find out more about Neonist here.

Used correctly, neon-like signage works to attract, engage, and inspire customers. Not only does it help to create a distinct store atmosphere, but it can also influence shopper behaviour, spending habits and brand loyalty. By embracing current and future trends in retail design, retailers will create loyal customers who follow through on purchases, spend more in store, and return, time after time.