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Lighting the boutique retail experience: setting the mood for success

Lighting isn’t simply a practicality; it’s part of the story.


November 28, 2021
November 28, 2021
By Cooper Lighting Solutions (contributed)


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November 28, 2021 – Shoppers are drawn to boutique stores with great lighting. From show-stopping product displays to inviting ambient lighting, here’s how to execute a lighting design for retail success.

According to a Vogue Business analysis, lighting for a runway show costs anywhere between $10,000 and $40,000—a significant expense category for these events. That’s because fashion designers understand the critical role lighting plays in ensuring their products, brand, and creative vision are depicted accurately and engagingly.

Lighting isn’t simply a practicality; it’s part of the story.

In the same way, boutique retail stores should consider lighting’s role in customer experience and sales. Lighting isn’t just another utility, but an integral part of a successful merchandising strategy. There are various elements to consider and, fortunately, just as many innovative product options to help you bring a boutique store to light. Let’s look at some of these strategies and solutions.

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Illuminating the outdoor space

Let’s start with outdoor lighting, which plays a critical role in bringing customers through your doors at night. Your outdoor space should be well-lit for safety, security, and wayfinding, using a layered approach with different types of solutions. Here are some of the most common solutions for commercial spaces:

Flood lighting a.k.a. “security lights” tend to be bright (between 700 and 1300 lumens) and strategically placed in areas you want extra security.

Path and step lighting fixtures help guide customers at night, keeping them safe. Path lights tend to have a lower lumen output, between 100 to 200. Experts recommend something on the higher end of that range if there are any tripping hazards (e.g. uneven pavers). With step lighting, between 12 and 100 lumens will typically suffice.

Landscape and accent lighting (i.e. atmospheric lighting) can create visual interest and highlight certain architectural or natural features. Some designers choose to illuminate trees, which require between 50 and 300 lumens. Another popular technique is wall washing, which only requires about 50 lumens to achieve the desired effect.

When choosing outdoor lighting, be mindful of the IP rating, which indicates how well a fixture holds up against elements like water, dirt and dust. For outdoor fixtures, look for a rating of IP65 and above.

Because too much artificial lighting can be detrimental to nocturnal wildlife, some locales (like urban areas close to shorelines or Dark Sky Preserves) are subject to regulations that limit light pollution. For example, shops located in coastal towns may need to select fixtures marked “Full Cut-off (FOC)”—that is, no direct uplight.

Bringing shoppers in

First, be sure to provide ample general lighting throughout the retail boutique. The Lighting Research Center recommends 1.5 to 2.5 lumens of ambient lighting per square foot of retail space. There are countless ambient lighting options available, from basic ceiling troffers and classic recessed lighting fixtures to statement pieces, like chandeliers.

If the retail space boasts an architectural feature like cove ceilings, you should consider using strip lights (“cove lighting”) to achieve ambient lighting while creating a dramatic effect.

Again, because lighting plays an integral role in the overall merchandising strategy, consider the desired mood when selecting ambient lighting. Here is where colour temperature (CCT) makes all the difference.

Generally, lower-Kelvin light sources (2700K to 3000K) are considered “warm”, evoking feelings of coziness and familiarity, whereas higher-Kelvin temperatures (3500K to 5000K) are considered “cool”, and promote alertness.

Most retailers choose lighting within the 2700K to 4000K range, depending upon the desired effect and the size of the store; a colour temperature on the higher end of that spectrum will generally make a space appear larger. Fortunately, you can find lighting products with field-adjustable colour temperatures that allow you to experiment and find the perfect setting.

Leading customers through the experience

As with outdoor lighting, a layered approach works best inside to ensure the boutique is both functional and inviting. Consider rounding out your general lighting by illuminating walls and other vertical surfaces, using recessed lighting with wall wash trim or adjustable heads.

Mounting the light closer to the wall (less than 2.5 feet) will provide more of a “grazing” effect, which is ideal for highlighting textures and adding visual interest, while a distance of more than 2.5 feet is better for highlighting objects along the wall (like wall hangings) and not the wall itself.

Next, consider adding task lighting to certain areas. What tasks will staff and guests need to perform? The checkout area usually warrants more focused lighting, as do customer fitting rooms and staff office areas. You’ll want to consider the CRI (colour rendering index) of the fixtures you choose. The higher the CRI, the more closely the lighting resembles natural sunlight—the most accurate light source. Light sources with a lower CRI may distort colours, impacting sales.

Imagine a customer trying on and purchasing what she thinks is a Red dress, only to discover later that it’s actually Orange.

Making the products stand out

The boutique’s products are the stars of the show. Make sure you’re not just spotlighting merchandising displays and product areas with accent lighting, but creating contrast in the lighting scheme to draw customers’ attention where you want it.

While track lighting remains a popular accent lighting choice among retailers because of its adjustability, it isn’t the only option in town; undercabinet lights and adjustable downlights are great for spotlighting products while blending seamlessly with any design scheme.

Undercabinet lights aren’t just for cabinets; you can line shelves with linear LED lights to create a smooth, even light distribution that draws attention to products. Small, low-voltage fixtures like puck lights are ideal for use in shelves or displays where you want more of a spotlight.

Want to stick to ceiling lights? Many of today’s downlight solutions offer adjustable angles, which provides the optical benefits of track lighting but with a cleaner, more uniform look.

Final considerations

Of course, overall energy efficiency is an important metric for all of the fixtures selected, so do your homework and compare energy consumption between fixtures. Maintenance intervals, too, should also be considered, so compare the rated life between fixtures.

And, while it may not be a consideration now, decide whether intelligent lighting may become a priority down the road. If the likelihood exists, then consider PoE (power-over-Ethernet) fixtures with embedded sensors or, at least, with the ability to be easily retrofitted.

So while there are numerous technical aspects to consider, and a variety of different possible fixtures solutions, the ultimate goal is to not just develop and execute a lighting design that simply illuminates dark spaces, but becomes an integral component of a successful merchandising strategy.


This feature—plus more great content—appears in the December 2021 edition of Electrical Business Magazine. Even more back issues are located in our Digital Archive.



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