‘Ticketek’ Westfield, designed by Forward Thinking Design is featured in the August/September issue of Lighting Magazine.
Date: Vol 34, Issue 4 – August/September 2014
Retail lighting has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of LEDs across the international lighting market. The lure of energy savings combined with the continuous improvements to the colour palette and the development of smaller light fittings and fixtures make LEDs an obvious choice, but this is just one piece of the puzzle driving contemporary retail lighting trends.
Well-designed retail lighting can encourage customers to enter and navigate a store, linger at specific merchandise displays or move quickly through point of sale stations. But choosing the right fixtures and fittings for an individual retail space requires an in-depth understanding of the type of retail business being serviced, the products that will be sold within it, and the customer base that the client is targeting.
“Designers need to understand what kind of products or services a client is selling, how they sell them, what their target group of customers is, what their brand positioning is, what colours are used in the corporate branding, and where the shop is located in relation to external lighting from the shopping mall or daylight from the street,” says Bow Jaruwangsanti, Lighting Design Manager at Haron Robson.
“Styles, moods and layouts are different all the time, depending on the type of retail business and concept.”
Jaruwangsanti believes that retail lighting plans should be built on four basic illumination types: accent lighting, ambient lighting, shelf lighting and feature lighting.
“If the business needs a quick turnaround all the time, like supermarkets or fast food shops, the lighting in the space should be quite bright, attracting people to come in and also urging them to get out quickly,” she says.
“On the other hand, in a bar or boutique supermarket environment, the owner or retailer needs to make people feel comfortable spending their time and money buying drinks or browsing merchandise. Lighting then should be quite warm, soft and comfortable with accent lighting highlighting the products and specific features.”
According to Retail Lighting and Design, a US-based retail lighting blog, contemporary trends in the US and Europe
lean towards a reduction in ambient illumination levels and a boost in accent lighting:
Traditionally, store managers focused mainly on ambient lighting. The logic was to keep the entire store at a decent
brightness so clients could look around the store more easily. However, over the past few years, stores have begun using more accent lighting.
Accent lighting brings more attention to an important section and also makes the product look more attractive; strong ambient lighting can make merchandise look washed out. In addition, accent lighting uses less energy than ambient lighting, so this switch also saves money.
In terms of fittings and fixtures, Jaruwangsanti says: “The current trend for high-end retail shops is to use track
spotlights in ceiling slots, or recessed track lighting in the ceiling for a clean, tidy installation. Linear LEDs around the perimeter and linear LEDs integrated the joinery units are commonly used as well. Supermarkets and grocery shops tend to use suspended LED linear lights instead of metal halide high bays.”
Trends like these seem to come and go, often at great speed, but it’s the drivers behind them that provide real insight into where the retail sector is headed. To begin with, changes in customer motivations and behaviours – specifically, the way that people perceive a retail space and their expectations in terms of how they will interact with it – remain a moveable feast. Combine that with the way that retailers incorporate new technologies and social trends into their product offerings (think about the way that e-readers and inner city café culture have impacted
the traditional concept of a bookstore, for example) and you have a recipe for a sector that is constantly changing.
“A bookstore doesn’t only sell books anymore – it offers a place for customers to sit down, relax, read a book and have a drink,” Jaruwangsanti says.
“Similarly, a food court is not a just place where you can have a quick meal anymore. It becomes more of a place where people feel comfortable to sit down to relax, catch up with friends, have food and drinks, including alcoholic beverages.”
The lighting styles and technologies used to illuminate retail spaces are also undergoing dramatic change. The rapid
development of LEDs in recent years has been well documented; ongoing improvements to the LED colour palette,
the potential for energy savings, as well as the fact that LEDs naturally lend themselves to smaller fixtures and fittings, have seen the retail sector making excellent use of the technology in recent years.
A recent refurbishment of the Burlington Arcade in London is a prime example of the almost limitless potential of LEDs in retail projects. Led by London-based lighting firm Speirs + Major, the project sought to restore the arcade to its former status as one of the world’s premier shopping addresses. The space was fitted out with custom-built fittings and fixtures to create a “simple, elegant backdrop” for the arcade’s shopfronts, says project director Andrew
Howis. He estimates that up to 95 per cent of the lighting scheme was comprised of LEDs, the due largely to the flexibility of the technology.
“By using a series of much, much smaller sources, you can define what shape you want it, so it’s equally easy to produce circular fittings or square fittings or linear fittings, that are going to be able to integrate with the architecture seamlessly,” Howis says.
But LEDs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new opportunities in retail lighting. From OLEDs and interactive lighting installations to truly innovative lighting control systems that transform shopping spaces with minimal energy usage, the retail sector is poised at the precipice of a whole new world of potential.
“Recently, I saw an OLED mirror light that was perfect for a fitting room. It has a soft diffuse light and it is very thin. OLEDs could be a good alternative for a small application like mirrors, signange, shelves and display units. This technology could replace the existing lighting that generates a lot of heat or a light source that is too harsh to look at,”Jaruwangsanti says.
The development of sensor-based lighting technologies is another new frontier; while the technology is currently in its infancy, it has the potential to dramatically transform the way that lighting design shapes commercial spaces.
“Traditionally, a light fitting was a bulb and a reflector, and it was a fairly dumb piece of equipment. Now, effectively, lighting is a piece of electronics that can monitor itself and have all kinds of inbuilt intelligence,” Howis says.
“One of the things that has recently been developed is the ability to have sensing built into each light fitting, so that as people move around the stores, you know where they are.”
Capturing this information would provide a detailed glimpse into how customers engage with store displays and specific pieces of merchandise, as well as track their movements, giving retailers access to a wealth of real-time data on customer behaviour.
Behind the scenes, sophisticated lighting control systems are starting to appear in retail projects, delivering new opportunities for dynamic lighting as well as significant energy savings.
“I think part of the story that’s often missed is that yes, LED has brought about, or will bring about, greater efficiency, but by far the greatest efficiencies you can find is actually through lighting controls. And that was the other side of the Burlington Arcade story – we actually installed quite a sophisticated control system to make sure that you’re only using exactly what you want at any one time,” Howis says.
“When we actually looked at the total installed load of the new lighting system, it was slightly greater than the one that preceded it, but because of the control system, the actual running loads were much less.”
While these control systems remain largely the domain of high-end or large scale retail lighting projects due to cost
restraints, Howis says he expects to see the technology become more accessible in the coming years. Specifically, he says, the growing sophistication of LED technologies means that controlbased intelligence is being built into the fittings, removing the need for expensive and complex centralised control systems.
In addition to these technologies, new materials that are being used in retail store fit-outs also present a wealth of new challenges and opportunities for designers to integrate light with novel textures, fabrics and surfaces.
“New materials and finishes that interior designers specify for retail stores, like stretch ceilings and wall panels that can be backlit, or a clear glass that can become opaque when illuminated, acrylic panels with beautiful inlays or mesh that distort light in certain directions, have changed the way in which we light things as well,” Jaruwangsanti says.