Lighting the Way to Sales

If you want to display your products to their best advantage, the most important element of your store’s design may be its lighting. Unfortunately, lighting is often the most neglected component of store design.

Lighting designers say proper lighting attracts more shoppers into the store, helps sell product—particularly items like jewelry—and enhances a store’s image. Superior lighting is more expensive, but designers argue that increased business will offset higher costs.

“We found that the cost of the new lighting is always offset by increased sales and sometimes a reduction in the amount of money spent in the operation of the lights,” says Gary Gordon, principal of Gary Gordon LLC, a New York City-based architectural lighting firm. “They’re more efficient, and the watts that are used are used wisely in proper places for specific tasks rather than just being thrown about.”

Good lighting combines architecture, art, and science. These complexities can often be overwhelming to those whose primary business is to sell product. That’s why it pays to hire a professional. But it also pays to understand why you should examine your lighting needs, and what questions to ask when doing so.

Product vs. image. Quality lighting should do two things: enhance the look of the product and help create the image a retailer wants his store to project. Most lighting designers believe that one should not take precedence over the other.

“We pay attention to both the article being sold and the image the store wants to project,” Gordon says.

“As far as the color rendition of the light source—meaning the ability of the light source to render colors to our eyes in a familiar way—we pay very careful attention to the article being sold,” he says. “As far as the image and the mood the store wants to project, we pay attention to the quality of light. For example, a cloudy day makes one quality of light low contrast. A bright sunny day creates a high-contrast light quality, where people feel better about themselves.”

Gordon adds, “As far as jewelry is concerned, we go with a quality of light to make people feel better about themselves and make them spend more money. What we try to do for all our retail applications is create at least two layers of light: ambient background that you get from the sky, and a second layer of light, which is focused light like you get from the sun. That is the kind of light that we would put on the merchandise being sold.”

Rosemarie Allaire, of Francis Krahe & Associates Inc., Laguna Beach, Calif., says that if she had to choose between image and product, she would give a slight edge to the product.

“They’re almost equal,” Allaire says. “But I would think it’s got to be product. If you don’t capture the person [with] the image, you’ve got to sell them on the product. The image may not fit everybody. Ultimately the product is what’s going to sell. Image gets you in the door and the product makes the sale.”

Inside or outside? Most of the lighting designers interviewed prefer to light the inside of showcases. But sometimes that’s not an option—the store design may not allow it, or the owner might not want it. So designers must devise a solution that provides enough light to view products in the showcase without causing glare or casting shadows.

Faith Baum, vice president of The Mintz Lighting Group Inc., New York, says she’s a firm believer in lighting showcases from the inside.

“Certainly lighting needs to be inside the showcase,” Baum says. “It’s very difficult to light showcases outside because of glare, and you don’t know the quality of light you would get inside. In a fine-jewelry type of situation, we tend to use a lot of accent lighting [such as] halogens to accent showcases, and we display them in front of the showcases.”

Gordon agrees. “We prefer to place the light in the showcases so that customers don’t produce shadows when they look at the articles,” he says. “One of the challenges of lighting jewelry is to make sure that the pieces sparkle.” But when lighting the inside of the showcase isn’t an option, Gordon finds other solutions.

If the source is coming from the ceiling, Gordon says, he prefers a light source with a filament and a directional beam, like a halogen lamp or an outdoor floodlight. In a space with high ceilings, he prefers high-intensity discharge lamps.

Patricia Glasow, principal at Auerbach + Glasow, San Francisco, also favors inside lighting.

“I like to place lights, if you can, inside the showcase, and, in general, ambient light over the showcase,” she says. “If you can’t place them in the showcase then you have to come over and through the showcase. You have to be careful about glare, [making sure] that your lights are placed in such a way that the light does not bounce back in the customer’s face.”

Allaire says there’s a formula to follow when balancing ambient and showcase lighting: “Typically the displays are illuminated at higher levels. The recommendation is 10 times greater than the ambient level of your store.

“In one project, the lighting of showcases was done from above,” Allaire notes. “The solution was angling the sources in such a way that there wouldn’t be reflected glare off the case. The actual lamp source was an MR-16 spotlight for spot distribution with a mirrored reflector lamp source.”

What goes where? Glasow says jewelry stores are a unique challenge because the products being lighted are small, examined carefully by the customer, and usually more expensive than the average retail purchase.

“Gems and metals benefit from good directional lighting,” Glasow says. “You just want to make sure the light force you’re using gets a good color rendering and a true color rendering.”

Glasow says that in jewelry stores, she prefers tungsten halogen light sources or incandescent lights with a higher-than-average heat temperature rating, which provide better color rendering.

There are several schools of thought when it comes to lighting, Baum says, and most designers describe lighting as a balancing act. The goal is to choose light sources that combine ambient and spotlighting; provide good color rendering, low heat, and long life; and enhance the desired image of the store.

“We try to strike a balance in our lighting,” Baum says. “We always want to light the merchandise the way it should be lit [while being] mindful of efficiency, energy usage, and maintainability. You have to balance what the needs of the installation are with the other issues. [For example], there are certain retail installations where it’s more important to use a certain light than it is to maintain light bulbs.

“When we light apparel, we tend to use fluorescent with a very high color rendering index so you’re getting true color and balancing that with efficiency and long life,” Baum continues. “When we light something like cosmetics, [where you have to consider] not only the colors of the product being lit but also the color of the women’s skin, we tend to use incandescent lights because that is the most flattering when applying different makeup. When we light something like jewelry, crystals, or cosmetics, we like to use an incandescent or a quartz source, which makes it sparkle.”

Gordon says placement of light sources is critical from a lighting designer’s perspective.

“We usually place spotlights 30 to 40 degrees straight down from vertical to the merchandise,” Gordon says. “That’s so that the shadows from the articles aren’t too long, or so that any reflected glare from the light source would fall down to your shoes instead of in your eyes. Right now, tungsten halogen light is the best color rendering light source to make things appear [the way] we want to see them.”

Glow with the flow. Some designers, including Gordon, believe in taking different approaches to lighting the front of a store vs. lighting the back.

“People, like insects, are involuntarily drawn toward areas of the greatest brightness,” Gordon says. “You see that approach in shopping malls where one store tries to be brighter than the other. And it works. We try to create a hierarchy of light that draws people from the entrance to the back of the store. We use light to guide circulation by making bright vertical surfaces the surfaces you see first. [We light] those in a progressively brighter way to draw you [into] the store.”

Lighting tips. Retailers can take a number of steps on their own to improve store lighting. For example, Glasow recommends using tungsten halogen and fluorescent lamps—available at hardware and lighting stores—for good color rendering. When choosing fluorescent lamps, she advises, go for quality rather than price. The cheapest fluorescent lamps (as low as $1 each) do not render color well, she says: “They make articles look like garbage.”

It’s easy to determine which fluorescent lamps provide good color ratings. All light affects color, which in turn affects how jewelry looks in a store. Every light source has a color temperature that’s measured in degrees Kelvin (K). The higher the color temperature, the bluer the light. The lower the color temperature, the more orange-red the light becomes.

The higher the Kelvin rating, the cooler the light and the lower the color rendering. For example, the standard cool white fluorescent lights that you may have in your kitchen, workshop, or office produce a color temperature of approximately 5,000° K.

Glasow recommends using fluorescent lamps with a 3,000° K to 3,500° K rating. In addition to the Kelvin rating, the boxes and lamps themselves have a color-rating index.

“Usually the lamp is called something like a designer series,” Glasow says. “You will get a good color rating with a 70 series, also known as a 700 series. You can go up higher and get a lamp in the 80 or 800 series—that’s really good. The old fluorescent lamps might be in the 50s when it comes to color rendering. They were awful, but they’re still on the shelves.”

No matter how it’s accomplished, proper lighting can improve sales and enhance a store’s image, say lighting designers. And that’s enough to brighten any jewelry store owner’s day.