If They Can't See It, You Can't Sell It: Tips for Retail Lighting

Posted: November 20, 2019

There’s an old saying in retail. “If you want to move the merchandise, put it in the front window.” But what happens if you see that merchandise in the front window, but can’t find it once you’re in the store? Or worse, what happens when you find the merchandise and then when you take it home it looks nothing like it did in the store? Chances are, that could mean there’s a problem with the store’s lighting.

Such was the case with eleven-year-old Lara Maloney of London, England, who, according to a report in Lux Review, wrote the following letter to Hollister after a botched shopping trip to the hip clothier.

Dear Hollister,

I recently went to our shop in Regents Street with my daddy to spend my gift card that I got for my birthday. I went inside and picked up a few things that I wanted and then I saw a really nice white top to buy. When I got home and put everything in my wardrobe, I sadly found out that my white top was actually pink!


While the correspondence is ironic, the issue is the last thing a brick and mortar retailer needs when struggling to draw in foot traffic in the age of online shopping. Faced with a similar issue, Hollister’s parent company Abercrombie and Fitch started an image overhaul in 2015 that saw dramatic changes to the store’s signature dark shuttered look-and-feel.

Bloomberg Business reported in 2015 when Abercrombie exec Christos Angelides laid out changes that were on the horizon for the struggling retailer.

“The stores are also becoming less intimidating …” Angelides said. "We are changing the music […] The stores probably won't be nightclub dark; the clothes will be easier to find…”

The results seemed to have worked to a certain degree. According to a March 2019 Business Insider report, despite the closure of 40 underperforming stores nationwide, a YouGov survey found that the brand’s customer impression score rose from -4 in 2016 to +3 in November of 2018.

So, as we’ve learned from Hollister and Abercrombie, lighting matters in how it affects overall customer experience. But what can a small retail business owner do to avoid falling into the bad lighting trap? We’ve put together list of five lighting do’s from leading lighting industry and design experts.

Know About Different Lighting Styles and Where to Use Them



There are three basic lighting styles: ambient, accent, and high-activity. Ambient lighting comes from wall and ceiling lighting fixtures and is the how you will light most of your retail space. Accent lighting is how you highlight certain sales items or pieces of architecture. High-activity lighting fills the gap where ambient and accent lighting doesn’t reach. Lighting supplier Atlanta Bulbs recommends using a balanced mixture of all three styles.

Fixtures are Important



How the light itself is housed is just as important to the overall look-and-feel of a retail space as the lighting itself. If the brand is sporty or sleek, track lighting will complement the space. Shopifiy noted that if the brand identity is classic, warmer ambient lighting achieved by vintage sconces and chandeliers add to the merchandise and store design.

Daylight Makes a Difference



If the retail space is a storefront or has exterior windows, daylight has to be taken into account when choosing both lighting type and technology. VMSD Magazine notes that daylight has a bluish temperature that sometimes clashes with incandescent lighting sources which tend to be warmer. You’ll never be able to compete with the sun, so choose cool temperature lighting. Or better yet, give yourself the option to change the temperature of the lighting from cool to warm for nighttime.

Hire a Lighting Designer



A lot of retailers rely on architects or engineers for their lighting choices. That’s like hiring a dermatologist for a root canal. A lighting expert will know the latest in retail lighting trends, and can help transform your space.

Do It All to Code the First Time



Nothing could be worse than spending thousands of dollars on a lighting system that achieves everything both functionally and aesthetically, only to have an inspector come in and shut the operation down. Hiring a licensed and insured electrician like PK & Altman is a sure bet way to avoid this from happening.

Are you a retail business looking to improve sales with new lighting? Call PK & Altman Electric. We work closely with designers, architects, and general contractors throughout the building process. We design interior and showcase lighting to display your merchandise in the best possible light.

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