How to Design Your Retail Store Lighting (+ Best Lighting Practices)

Cover illustration; three t-shirts dangle under a trio of flood lights.

Good retail store lighting is essential for creating a positive in-store experience and driving sales. It influences the way shoppers perceive items and determines how quickly shoppers move throughout the store.

It also has a direct effect on the overall ambience and atmosphere of the store, making it more inviting and comfortable for customers. With the right lighting, a retail store appears larger, brighter, and more welcoming.

Retail lighting is also a way to create an environment that reflects the brand of the store, expressing its style and setting it apart from the competition. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the lighting for your store. 

How to design retail lighting 

When you’re making lighting decisions for your retail space, you need to keep a few specifics in mind.

1. Decide which type of retail lighting to use

There are several different types of retail lighting, which are used to create different vibes within a store.

Accent lights

A selection of accent lights on Google shopping

Accent lighting is used to draw attention to certain areas or merchandise. This type of lighting is great for creating drama and emphasizing focal points. 

Examples of accent lighting include track spots and LED strip lights. It’s perfect for retail stores with a luxury aesthetic, like jewelry stores and high-end fashion boutiques.

Decorative retail lighting

A selection of decorative retail lighting on Google shopping

If you’re looking to add charm and ambiance to a store, consider decorative lighting. This type of lighting is often used to set the mood and create a unique atmosphere. 

Chandeliers, string lights, and paper lanterns are all examples of decorative lighting. This lighting is perfect for retail stores with a fun and playful atmosphere, like toy stores. 

Ambient lighting

A selection of ambient lighting options on Google shopping

Ambient lighting is used to provide an even light throughout a space. This type of lighting is best for creating a relaxed atmosphere that highlights the merchandise. Ceiling lights, wall sconces, and track lights all count as ambient lighting options. Ambient lighting is perfect for specialty stores like clothing boutiques.

Task lighting

A selection of smaller lamps on Google shopping

With task lighting, you provide a focused light on certain work or task areas. Task lighting is great for countertops and product displays, helping shoppers clearly see products and engage in more detailed analysis. Examples of task lighting are under-cabinet lights or even pendant lights. Task lighting is best for stores with complex products like electronic devices, appliances, or beauty products. 

2. Choose the right brightness and color temperature

Brightness refers to the amount of light a light source projects, while color temperature refers to the tone of the light. Brightness is measured in lumens, while color temperature is measured in Kelvin. 

Common brightness levels range from 700 lumens to 4,000 lumens, while common color temperatures range from 2,700K to 6,500K. Lower brightness levels and warmer color temperatures are great for creating a cozy atmosphere, while higher brightness levels and cooler color temperatures work well for creating a brighter environment. 

Emphasizing brightness is best for retail stores with darker products, while color temperature is best for stores with lighter merchandise. 

For example, a clothing store might use lower brightness levels and warmer color temperatures to enhance the beauty of its merchandise. An electronics store, on the other hand, might opt to use higher brightness levels and cooler color temperatures to make its products stand out.

3. Ensure even illumination

Even illumination is the key to creating a comfortable and inviting retail space. This refers to spreading light evenly throughout the store, avoiding dark spots, shadows, and bright spots. Even illumination helps shoppers recognize products easier, increasing the likelihood of sales.

Ceiling lights are a good source of even illumination. This type of illumination is great for retail stores with multiple displays and shelves, such as a department store or furniture store. With evenly distributed light, shoppers are able to browse and compare different products more effectively.

4. Use energy-efficient lighting

You can’t go wrong with energy-efficient lighting, which uses less energy than traditional lighting and helps reduce energy costs long-term. 

Examples of energy-efficient lighting are LED bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs, and high-efficiency fluorescent tubes. This type of lighting is great for sizable retail stores that spend a large part of each day open. 

Fluorescent lighting

Fluorescent tubes are energy-efficient, high-performance light sources that provide an even illumination. They work well for creating a bright atmosphere and highlighting products. Think of your local supermarket as a great example. 

Halogen lighting

Halogen bulbs are incandescent lights that use halogen gas to burn brighter than ordinary incandescent bulbs. They are designed to have a slightly longer life and higher efficiency than regular incandescent bulbs. 

They’re used in a variety of spaces in retail stores. Historically, halogen lighting has often been used in outdoor work areas — think lighting for security areas or to illuminate parking lots. 

LED lighting

LED lighting is expected to make up about 87% of all lighting by 2030. LED bulbs are a long-lasting, energy-efficient way to light up a store. Because they’re so good for accent lighting and creating focal points, stores that want to emphasize certain products like jewelry and high-end fashion tend to favor LED lighting. 

Select your fixtures 

Time to select your preferred fixtures. 

Ceiling lights

A selection of ceiling lights on Google shopping.

Ceiling lights are a great way to provide even illumination throughout a space. They are perfect for ambient lighting and creating a welcoming atmosphere. The best features of ceiling light fixtures are energy efficiency, adjustable light levels, and diverse designs. They work well for apparel retailers and gallery-style product displays. Costwise, ceiling lights range anywhere from $40 to $200 or more.

Wall sconces

A selection of wall sconces on Google shopping.

Have you ever seen wall sconces in dressing rooms? They’re there to create contrast, often by playing with color temperatures. Wall sconces are a great way to create a more intimate, contained atmosphere, which makes them useful to create highlighted display areas within a retail space. Among the best features of wall sconces are their energy efficiency, adjustable direction, and diverse designs. 

They’re best for higher-end retail stores or retailers that want to create a sophisticated atmosphere, and they can range in cost from $20 to $200 or more, depending on the quality and design you’re looking for.

Track lights

Track lights are a versatile lighting option, excellent for providing a nice hue of illumination to just about every space; they are perfect for highlighting entire displays. Depending on the track lighting you go with, they can be energy efficient and are a good aesthetic choice over other, more standard lighting options. 

6. Create a store lighting plan

Before diving into a store lighting plan, it’s important to set the foundation by becoming aware of any lighting regulations, laws and requirements, including the following. 

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) lighting requirements for commercial buildings help ensure that stores are accessible to customers with disabilities. The ADA states that the minimum average illumination level for a space should be 10 foot-candles, with a maximum to minimum illumination of 40:1. 

The IECC states that natural lighting should be used wherever possible, and artificial lighting should be designed to reduce energy usage by using task lighting and daylight harvesting. The requirement also states that general lighting should be provided in areas with low ambient lighting levels. 

To create a store lighting plan, retailers need to ensure that the store is compliant with these regulations and accessible to all customers. With regulations like these in mind — as well as any that might apply at a state level — start planning a comprehensive lighting plan of action. 

Gather information and measure space

Gather all the information necessary, including measurements of the space, doing research on the types of lights available, and considering your budget.

To get an accurate reading of the space, it is important to measure the length, width, and height of the area. This will help to determine the amount and type of lights needed.

Identify the focus and ambiance

The next step is to identify the focus and ambiance of the store. This includes deciding what products will be highlighted, what type of atmosphere the store is trying to create, and what areas could benefit from special lighting. This will help to narrow down the type of light fixtures needed as well as the appropriate amounts for each area. 

Lay out the lighting fixtures

Once the information is gathered and the focus and ambiance have been identified, it’s time to lay out the lighting fixtures. Think about retail layouts like floor level, above displays, and behind products when organizing your lights. It’s also important to consider the placement of the lights in relation to one another, like making sure adjacent lights don’t create a glare or that too much cool or warm light is concentrated in one area.

Choose the light bulbs

As you choose your lightbulbs, consider the brightness, tone, relative proportions, and look of each fixture. Remember to aim for harmony when mixing and matching different light fixtures. 

Install the lights

The final step is to install the lights. This includes making sure the lights are properly and safely installed, connected to the power source, and that they actually turn on. At this phase of the retail lighting plan, ensuring safety and compliance is key. 

Showcase merchandise with accent lighting 

The last step is to showcase the merchandise with accent lighting. This includes using task lighting and spotlights to highlight certain products or displays. This will help to bring attention to certain items and create a more inviting atmosphere that helps draw the eye to your best products, sales, or special offers.

7. Price out your lighting costs

How much will a lighting plan cost you? The short answer is, it depends. 

The cost of a lighting plan depends on the type of lights and fixtures used, the size and scale of the space, and the amount of customization needed. Generally speaking, a basic lighting plan costs anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

Some suggestions for retailers looking to save money on their lighting plans:

  • Use energy-efficient light bulbs like LEDs
  • Purchase lights and fixtures in bulk for possible discounts
  • Hire a professional electrician to do the job well, ensure lighting safety, and save long-term
  • Create a predetermined budget so as not to spend more than intended after installation and possible troubleshooting

It helps to think about lighting costs as percentages of the total that fall into three main categories:

  • lighting fixtures: 30-50% of the budget
  • bulbs and replacement parts: 10-20% of the budget
  • labor and supplies: 10-15% of the budget

Retail lighting best practices

Consider a few best practices as you work on putting a lighting plan together.

Create a visual hierarchy

A selection of dress shirt displays in various retail outlets, showcasing the variety of display styles.

When creating a lighting plan, it is important to create a visual hierarchy. This means using different types of lights and fixtures to create a layered look. For example, consider using task lighting for displays, mood lighting for seating areas, and spotlights for featured items. Creating a hierarchy will help guide customers’ eyes around the store and make it more visually appealing.

Use backlighting to highlight products

Two storefronts showcasing how back-lighting helps to focus attention.

By using backlighting, retailers create a sense of depth and focus customers’ attention on certain areas. This technique is often used in video stores to draw attention to new releases or popular titles.

Use window treatments

Two store window displays; one is filled to the brim with balloons and text on the window reads, "Celebrate now -- there's no better time". The other display is more conventional; showing two mannequins in overcoats and hats, next to a table showcasing a matching purse and scarf.

Window treatments are used in a variety of ways, such as sheer curtains to diffuse natural light, blackout curtains to provide privacy, or decorative curtains to set the mood. They enhance the overall appearance of natural lighting in a retail space and are an energy-efficient way to play with natural light. 

Make the best of your retail lighting

Whether you're setting up window displays, you want to work with task lighting, or you simply want proper lighting to ensure a good customer experience, retail lighting matters for businesses that want to draw people in and sell more merchandise. 

By following the steps outlined in this article, you can create a welcoming retail atmosphere from the parking lot to the entrance area, and all the way to the changing rooms.

Retail lighting FAQ

What is the best lighting for a retail store?

The best lighting for a retail store depends on the type of products, the atmosphere of the store, and the budget. Generally speaking, task lighting, spotlights, and backlighting are some of the most popular types of lighting for retail stores.

What kind of lights are used in retail stores?

The type of lights used in retail stores can vary depending on the store's needs. Common types of lighting used in retail stores include task lighting, spotlights, sconces, accent lighting, and backlighting.

What is the meaning of retail lighting?

Retail lighting is the process of creating an inviting atmosphere in a retail store. Lighting for retail typically involves the use of task lighting, spotlights, and backlighting to highlight products and create an inviting atmosphere.

Which light is best for the showroom?

The best lights for showrooms are typically bright yet efficient lights like LED and halogen lamps. These lights will help create an inviting atmosphere for customers and make the products on display stand out.