Retail Applications
Design Strategies
Ambient Lighting Strategies
Accent Lighting Strategies
Lighting Controls
Last Update: March 12, 2012
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Retail Applications

Design Strategies

The primary goal for big box, small box, and specialty market retail stores is to highlight the product while providing appropriate ambient (general circulation) lighting that provides a pleasant backdrop for the shopping experience. 

Often, the ambient lighting in these stores is so bright that higher wattage accent lighting must be used to provide enough brightness for products to stand out, increasing energy use two fold by using more light and energy than is necessary.

Uniform lighting and high-brightness luminaires usually signifies price conscience shopping, while non-uniform lighting and low-glare luminaires provide a more appropriate appearance for specialty stores and departments. Lighting perimeter walls and signage help the customer navigate throughout the store in a pleasant way.

The use of daylight can produce more comfortable and effective retail environments and has been shown to increase sales. This benefit may be difficult to quantify, but the energy saved by dimming or switching electric light in response to daylight can be quantified. The implementation of skylights and clerestories as well as lighting control equipment such as dimming ballasts and photocells result in energy savings.

Daylight with Electric Light Supplement

  • During the day, the sun and sky should provide most of the ambient lighting.
  • Electric lighting supplements the daylight when it is cloudy and must provide all of the lighting needs at night.
  • Automated dimming based on daylight availability will save the most energy and will create a smooth transition that is imperceptible to shoppers.

A Better Lighting Approach: Layers of Light

  • Create layers of retail light with ambient, accent, and task lighting.
  • Ambient lighting should create brightness and enough light for general circulation without over-powering the products.
  • Accent lighting should focus on the products and signage to make them stand out.
  • Task lighting should be local to specific tasks that require higher light levels such as check-out counters or self-illuminated refrigeration cases

Visual Variety: Creating Space with Light

  • The lighting strategy should support the function of each separate area.
  • Lighting creates moods by varying brightness.
    • Brightly lit spaces tend to feel more public, while dimmer spaces feel more private or exclusive.
    • Decorative lighting can create space within a larger space and can attract attention to specialty items.
  • A fast-casual dining area should be less bright and have decorative lighting to create a more private, intimate experience.


  • Ceilings should be light in color with a matte finish to maximize brightness perception in the store.
  • Upper walls should also be light in color and matte finish.

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