A Little Goes a Long Way

While recent advancements in the lighting industry may be considered subtle by some, they’re making a big impact in retail
Posted April 17, 2017

Beyond the continuing advancements in drivers, controls, flicker and dimming, not many game-changing trends have made their way to the forefront quite yet in 2017. However, the capabilities of LEDs continue to improve, allowing for more creative uses in retail.

“The developments are baby steps, but they mean a lot in terms of widening the application possibilities,” says Renée Cooley, principal, Cooley Monato Studio (New York), about LED improvements. “When it comes to linear products, more are getting smaller and have diffused lenses so there is no diode image.” Other advances include lower-profile LEDs, which can be seamlessly integrated into millwork, shelving and fixtures.

“The LED revolution has already happened, but they are evolving over time to be more consistent in color, have tighter binning, higher color-rendering indexes, higher lumen output with greater efficacy – while the price has been going down,” she adds.

The biggest challenge is avoiding lights sourced purely from a cut sheet. Archit Jain, principal, Oculus Light Studio (Los Angeles), explains that in previous years, similar PAR or M16 lamps usually produced the same illumination, even if the fixtures came from different manufacturers, and that isn’t always the case with LEDs.

“Even if manufacturers are sourcing their chips from other standard manufacturers, it’s how they’re integrating them into their fixtures, which can change the light spread, color [or] distribution,” he says. This means if three manufacturers carry a version of an 18-watt LED, all producing 1200 lumens at 3500K, they may not appear uniform, so mockups are crucial.

While sales floors are reaping the benefits of LEDs, according to Cooley, dressing rooms are still in the dark. “Because LED strip lighting is small and has better color qualities, it can be located under lips of shelving units, or even behind mirrors in fitting rooms,” she says. “After all, that is the point-of-purchase, I think, where the customer makes the decision.”

While there are several manufacturers that create mirrors with various forms of integrated tunable lighting, it seems not that many retailers have taken on the new products in store.

Adam Kroll, senior designer, Cooley Monato Studio, agrees, “It’s shocking how bad some of the lights are [in fitting rooms],” he says. “Designers fight to include lighting on the walls and mirrors, but the default seems to be having the light [placed] on the ceiling, which casts bad shadows and doesn’t light the customer well.”

Tunable white light, which was (and still is) a buzzworthy trend, has remained a mostly healthcare-oriented application, with few retailers adopting the technology. A big reason, according to Kroll, is the  sometimes complicated controls of many products, which could be difficult for some retailers to  deal with on a daily basis and use properly, though some controls are evolving to become more end user-friendly.

Mixed-use spaces intended for after-hours parties, promotions or special events – demarcated by alternate illumination techniques than used elsewhere in store – are still linchpins in strengthening bonds between consumers and brands. While the trend has mostly been adopted by higher-end apparel retailers, appliance and home goods brands like Pirch (San Diego) are also utilizing the concept. By dimming for an event, retailers can visually differentiate the space from what customers might see during the store’s regular shopping hours, helping to set the tone and mood for an exclusive gathering.

“It’s very different than typical retail, where we’re trying to make sure all the merchandise is lit really well,” says Jain. “Whereas, if you’re coming [in] after-hours, it might be [for] a party or a cooking event – Pirch does some amount of dimming for that purpose.”

Samar Younes, global design director, creative environment, Coach (New York), explains that, at the retail-level, LED advancements have been noticed. “The improvements of LEDs makes it possible to replicate close-to-nature shades. Retailers no longer need to compromise style for environmental sustainability and longer-lasting bulbs,” she says. “The introduction of LED decorative filaments and various dimmer controls opens up a world of possibilities.”

Edison-style bulbs seem to be making a comeback after a few years out of the limelight, and diffused/frosted lenses, reflective metals and sculptural fixtures – styles the hospitality sector has championed for years – are also staking their claim.

“It always starts with lighting as part of the marketing and branding,” says Cooley. “Whether the brand is moody and dramatic or Zen and quiet … the interior design and the lighting design work together to create the feeling of what that brand should look like.”