According to the U.S. Energy Information Association’s most recent Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), retail establishments account for about 27 percent of the nation’s nearly 5 million commercial, industrial and institutional buildings and their more than 71 billion square feet of total floor space. Like other building applications, retail spaces­—such as big-box settings and specialty stores, hotels, restaurants and supermarkets—have unique lighting requirements that help maximize the shopping experience and resultant sales revenue, and experts confirm that a firm handle on design and aesthetic elements for retail lighting will continue to prove critical in today’s competitive market.

“To compete and succeed in 2020, retailers will need to challenge and, in many cases, rethink their current value propositions to make sure they are sufficiently differentiated and compelling to the consumers they are targeting,” states a recent study, “Retail 2020: Reinventing Retailing—Once Again.” Authored by representatives of IBM and researchers at New York University’s Stern School of Business, the report recommends that retailers “use the store and technology as a competitive weapon.” The authors contend that “consumers have to be motivated to go to a store when there are likely going to be alternatives for shopping that are more convenient. The store should offer an environment that makes shopping a positive experience that delivers compelling value versus the alternatives.”

In light of these findings, electrical contractors can tap into their share of the dynamic retail lighting segment.

Retail lighting 101
Successful retailers are responding to a very challenging economy by developing a deeper understanding of their consumer and adapting their stores to deliver profitable transactions with each one of them, according to Sally Lee, L.C., LEED Green Associate, and market segment manager, retail, for Osram Sylvania in Danvers, Mass.

“As a result, store lighting is definitely trending toward lower ambient and higher contrast levels. Along with new technology, a drive toward sustainability, and pursuit of the latest energy code requirements, retail lighting has become leaner, greener and meaner. And, as both a capital and operating expense, it tops the list of store priorities,” she said.

Below, Lee outlines some current best practices and trends in lighting by key types of retail space.

Big-box retail
With surging online sales, Lee said, “Big-box retailers are trending toward the employment of multichannel marketing strategies and personalization to drive store traffic, increase revenue and enhance the value of their brand. In big-box settings, high-efficiency T8 and T5 fluorescent systems tucked into sleek new luminaires deliver an overall more dramatic showroom image as well as aggressive operational savings. While daylighting and controls technologies work to mitigate glare from smaller, bright-aperture luminaires under these retailers’ typical high ceilings, the drive to curtail energy use and slash maintenance costs with longer lasting lighting holds the most appeal for big-box retailers.”

Lee said that, although advanced fluorescent technologies dominate new lighting schemes, high-definition LED solutions worthy of retail applications are emerging onto the market.

“A few retailers are performing large-scale testing of form, function and asset management; as far as affordability [is concerned], these tests are exciting because they’re also formally assessing whether LED lighting impacts store sales,” she said.

Read More

Specialty shops
According to Lee, “Clothing, jewelry, and other specialty shops are perhaps the most sensitive of all retail outlets to how lighting can contribute to their unique customer experience while meeting technical and financial goals, and [they] are hard at work driving strategies, which use their real estate assets to differentiate their brand and ultimately motivate shoppers into their stores.”

When metal halide lighting in track fixtures became popular, for example, store sales associates learned about HID warmup and restrike time as well as color shift over lamp life.

“However, the latest LED accent lights alleviate these hassles while improving the store environment,” Lee said. “Designed with a broad spectrum, they deliver the best light to illuminate merchandise and people alike and require far fewer lamp changes, which not only improves operating costs but leaves more time for sales associates to pay attention to customers.”

Supermarket/grocery outlets
“Supermarket renovation projects have really awakened recently,” Lee said. “The sheer volume of space and dynamic display requirements in grocery sales areas, along with the growth of the freshly prepared food segment and subsequent rising need for refrigerated case technology, are creating a very exciting playing field for lighting. Store appearance and bottom-line savings start with scheduled lighting maintenance and often result in a relamping event, which dramatically improves store aesthetics.”

While older lighting configurations aimed to provide a big blanket of light in grocery stores, Lee said the newest approach is to position lighting equipment parallel to merchandise and project ambient lighting, not just accent lighting, onto packaged and fresh foods alike.

“Because supermarkets have such high overall energy use intensity and contractors may find that lighting and control systems are initially a little harder to sell on a first-cost basis, benefits from the reduced lighting load on refrigeration motors and overall building HVAC loads ultimately shortlists advanced lighting projects while improving store environment,” Lee said.

Hospitality/restaurants
In the hotel and restaurant segment, Lee and her colleagues report seeing a movement toward a range of dimmable ambient, accent and decorative LED luminaires that replace incandescent and halogen sources and create a warm, relaxing atmosphere for patrons while providing the benefits of long life and reduced maintenance.

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the hospitality industry spends $4.6 billion a year on energy but could save approximately $745 million a year by reducing energy usage by 10 percent,” Lee said.

Lasting up to 10 times longer than traditional incandescent lamps, many proven LED lamps on the market provide the sparkling light required for hospitality applications in decorative fixtures, such as chandeliers and wall sconces, while helping to establish a soothing atmosphere that will create repeat customers.

Out here in the field
Describing the retail sector as “an increasingly competitive business,” Louis Ames, vice president of Evansville, Ind.-based Mel-Kay Electric Co., a 60-year-old electrical contracting firm that serves the southwest corner of Indiana, Kentucky and parts of Illinois, has seen a number of lighting trends take hold over his 36 years in the business.

“We’re currently seeing more remodeling of specialty retail outlets like clothing, jewelry and grocery stores as well as gas stations and big-box venues as opposed to new construction in our area,” Ames said. “Over the years, technology trends in these stores revolved around incandescent sources, then fluorescent, and, about 10 years ago, a lot of track lighting; now we’re seeing more and more of these fixtures convert over to LED. Retailers like LEDs because they can deliver the light they want without the heat, and both the color quality and pricing on LEDs has improved over time, too. Retailers have increasingly come to understand that they’re selling their product, not their light, so they don’t care as much about the type of lighting that helps them best achieve their objectives. We think LEDs are going to carry the load in the future.”

In big-box settings, Ames said that metal halide and T5 fluorescent with motion sensors provide for attractive energy savings and ignite quickly as needed, unlike HID sources.

“We recently completed a lighting job at an 800,000-square-foot warehouse, and the T5 lamps we used replaced 400-watt metal halide technology with attractive energy savings and without requiring 7–10 minutes to come back on,” he said. “Grocery stores still largely rely on fluorescent high-bay technology, but freezers and chillers are going LED. In clothing stores, where lamp color is critical, halogen and LED are delivering the truest color and the most punch.”

David Morales, operations manager for the Electrical Contracting Division of Texas-based Facility Solutions Group’s Northeast region, agreed that LEDs are hitting their stride in several corners of the retail sector.

“Specialty retail stores and supermarkets have experienced an ‘LED light boom,’ especially in their interiors, due to their size,” Morales said. “The floor of LED technology combined with the growing availability of utility rebates on these products has made the LED retrofit market hot. The fact that LEDs can be used for small-scale settings make supermarkets, jewelry, and other specialty stores ripe for total LED makeovers. Add in the availability of a rebate, and you hit a home run.

“There are several benefits to using LEDs, including their bright color, long life, minimal maintenance requirements, and outstanding energy efficiency, but perhaps the most winning benefit for these locations is the ‘buzz’ LEDs create. You could never achieve that with just your plain vanilla fluorescent lamps,” Morales said.