Lighting Design Goals

A well lit retail environment makes for a positive shopping experience and encourages customers to make purchase decisions. Think of lighting as you would any other marketing or sales promotion tool in your store. It should:

  • Attract and guide customers into and through the store.
  • Provide visual comfort
  • Lead customers through merchandise areas safely and effectively
  • Help them find and evaluate merchandise
  • Call attention to specific merchandise and reinforce merchandising themes.
  • Initiate a purchase

Good retail lighting design is a balance between the following three areas:

  • Human Needs
    • Visibility
    • Task performance
    • Visual comfort
    • Safety
  • Environmental and Economic Issues
    • Cost of lighting system ownership
    • Energy costs
    • Sustainability
  • Architectural
    • Lighting systems complement building design

Regardless of the space or area being illuminated, the design scheme usually employs a “layered” approach, combining the three basic categories of lighting:

  • General (also called ambient lighting),
  • Local (also called accent or task lighting)
  • Decorative

Lighting solutions for each store will vary depending on the target market, store concept and functional needs of the space.

Low End (e.g. discount/overstock warehouses, mass merchandisers, wholesale clubs, supermarkets, “big box” retailers) They typically take a singular approach to lighting with symmetrically placed luminaires for uniform illumination.

  • Sales assistance: minimal.
  • Products easily recognizable, viewed, and evaluated.
  • Goals: come in, easily see, find and proceed to checkout.
  • Minimal quantity and types of display fixtures and furnishings; in the case of big box stores, everything is on H-frame racks.
  • Usually employes one type of light source for uniform illuminance throughout the store.


Lighting System:


  • High bay: typically T8 and T5 fluorescent systems for general illumination and high brightness at the ceiling level. Some applications (e.g. discount warehouses and clubs) use metal halide systems
  • Medium and low bay: typically recessed fluorescent lensed or parabolic louvered troffers to minimize glare.
  • Daylight harvesting is possible by pairing natural light from skylights with T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps, dimming ballasts and dimming controls, to maximize energy savings and extend lamp life.

Middle (e.g. department stores, large bookstores, better mass merchandisers, grocery superstores) Balances general lighting systems with accent lighting for key merchandising areas 

  • Sales assistance: Mixture of self-service and clerk assisted.
  • Products easily recognizable, viewed and evaluated.
  • Goals: comfortable environment where people want to linger, browse, try products and make purchase decision.
  • Key display areas for certain merchandise - brightness ratios of 10:1.
  • General lighting typically provides very uniform brightness ratios and light levels, with higher illuminance at key merchandising areas, ratios not more than 5:1.

Lighting System:

  • Typically layered with fluorescent for general illumination. Halogen or ceramic metal halide for display accent lighting.
  • General lighting typically provided by recessed indirect or deep cell louvered fluorescent luminaires.
High End (e.g. exclusive boutiques, fashion, designer label and specialty stores) Employs the most complex lighting, combining general, accent and decorative systems. Light levels are regulated to create contrast and differentiation in merchandise areas.
  • Sales assistance: High; some merchandise is not “self serve”.
  • Products are high quality and high value
  • Premium display fixtures and furnishings
  • Goals: Encourage customer to invest a lot of time, interacting with sales personnel and inspecting merchandise. Lighting needs to enhance the higher quality of products. (IES 10th Edition Lighting Handbook)
  • Complex lighting design, combining general, accent and decorative systems.
  • This is usually a non-uniform lighting environment focusing on accent lighting of the merchandise; brightness ratios ranging from 10:1 to 20:1, depending on quality of merchandise not more than 5:1. Light levels are regulated to create contrast and differentiation in merchandise areas.

Lighting System:

  • Halogen IR or standard PAR and MR16 lamps are typically used both for general and display lighting (down lights and track lights). Point sources provide sparkle.
  • Compact ceramic metal halide lamps provide good color and energy efficiency.
  • Compact fluorescent lamps are used in decorative wall sconces and wall washers.

Note: Stores within any of these broad categories may have a distinctive image or design “theme” that breaks many of the commonly accepted lighting design standards and includes lighting systems such as: LEDs, neon, fiber-optics, theatrical and effects generators; anything that helps motivate the consumer.