Light: We can’t do without it, but we so often take it for granted. Up until not so long ago, it was simply a bare necessity that made buying and selling possible. But the world of retail lighting is more complex than that–and much more interesting. With lessons from the experts in hand, you can harness the power of light in your store to provoke a visceral reaction that directly impacts consumer-buying behavior.
“I believe lighting is the single greatest factor that affects the consumer,” says Drew Miller, an associate member of the American Institute of Architects who works at Spacesmith. Lighting designers such as Miller are keenly aware that store lighting can trigger an emotional response faster than the brain can identify. It can transform our mood positively or negatively, shaping our decision to remain in a store or head for the exit. However, due to the subconscious nature of this reaction, buyer surveys rarely report lighting as a factor in their decision to make a purchase. While lighting is only one element of a store’s overall environment and branding, strategic use can have a tremendous impact on the store’s success and bottom line.
HOT OR COLD?
“Humans are drawn to light. We can use that to our advantage to help influence buyer behavior,” says Brent Shelly, director of business development for Regency Lighting Studio.
In fact, researchers in Europe and elsewhere have applied advanced techniques to examine the impact of lighting design on shopper preference, subsequent perception of a store and desire to purchase. A study by Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology used virtual reality to assess three lighting environments: store windows, shelf displays and the store overall. One of the biggest revelations was the importance of color temperature. Using the Kelvin scale, lighting temperature ranges are as follows: Less than 2,000K gives off a dim glow, similar to candlelight; 2,000K to 3,000K emits a soft white glow with a yellowish cast; 3,100K to 4,500K is bright white light suitable for workspaces or offices; 4,600K to 6,500K is a blue-white bright light that mimics daylight; and 6,500K and above is bluish light usually found in commercial locations. While brightness was a significant factor, color temperature and direction proved to be right up there. Warm-toned lighting and moderate brightness seemed to produce the ideal combination. For shop windows, vertically directed bright lighting showcased products more effectively. Within the store, the color temperatures most effective in attracting shoppers to specific items varied.
A second study from Hamburg University of Applied Sciences used eye-tracking technology to monitor participants while browsing lighting schemes within two retail stores. The study revealed that the human eye is instinctively drawn to areas of contrast rather than monochromatic lighting, and that bright white/cool white directional lighting is especially appealing when guiding the eye to a targeted item or area.
“With beauty stores, you want to make sure that the lighting is very flattering on people’s faces and that the color rendition is correct.”
—Jules Gim, associate vice president, Callison RTKL
One of the most referenced studies on LED lighting is from the Zumtobel Group in Austria. This research is based in Zumtobel’s trademarked Limbic Emotional Assessment theory, which correlates lighting preferences to personality traits. People categorized as “balanced” respond most positively to moderate accent lighting and medium floor-beam angles. Those who fall into the “stimulant” category needed a combination of relaxation and energy. For them, high-contrast and reduced general horizontal lighting prove beneficial, with a tendency toward cool white. The final category of “dominant” is characterized by sensitivity to unbalanced lighting scenarios. This group prefers high uniformity and reacts negatively to overstimulation.
The study observed the sales of German fashion retailer Gerry Weber. The store used Limbic Lighting, which impacts one’s mood and emotions, to target the balanced temperament of its typical customer. The study concluded that Gerry Weber had a net gain of 10 percent over the previous year’s sales as well as that of their direct competitors. Compared to a reference boutique that was nearly identical in terms of design, layout and location– but sans the Limbic Lighting arrangement–the results indicated that lighting design tailored to a clear demographic can produce considerable financial reward.
So what do all these studies mean for beauty stores? The retail beauty industry faces unique challenges that go well beyond an attractive or trendy lighting design. Store lighting must not only have emotional appeal, but also offer enough light to show cosmetic colors and undertones accurately. It’s a symbiotic balancing act where practicality and aesthetics link intrinsically to buyer comfort and confidence. Beauty and cosmetics are intimately connected to self-image and esteem. There is perhaps no other shopping experience where the customer is under as much scrutiny as when shopping for makeup or skin care. A clothing boutique or department store has dressing rooms, but beauty retail customers must use magnifying mirrors in full view of onlookers and store staff. There is no door to close for privacy while making those oftentimes funny makeup faces in the mirror.
KEEP IT GLOWING
Crafting this delicate balance is a special skill that some lighting designers have perfected. When given the task of designing lighting for a cosmetics retailer, these experts know what they want, what they don’t want and where some retailers are falling short.
For example, Diego Burdi, design director at the Toronto-based Burdfilek, made some substantial changes when his firm redesigned the lighting for Murale beauty boutiques in Canada. “With 75 percent of lighting as fluorescents, the spaces were too task-oriented and lacked the proper lighting and color rendition for an end user to really see themselves accurately,” he says. “We knew we needed to create a space with a greater ratio of indirect lighting in order to create a brighter ambiance to fill the space with a glow.”
“If you want happy customers, you need good lighting that ensures their expectations and your results are a perfect match.”
—Doug Root, co-owner and president, Atlanta Light Bulbs
Jules Gim, associate vice president at Callison RTKL in Baltimore, agrees that the beauty consumer herself must be at the center of lighting design. “With beauty stores, we choose to focus on how the customer looks,” she says. “It’s one of the differences compared to a lot of stores where it’s focused on the merchandise–whereas with beauty stores, you want to make sure that the lighting is very flattering on people’s faces and that the color rendition is correct.”
Callison RTKL is responsible for the lighting design of many luxury beauty retailers, so Gim knows how important it is that customers feel positive about themselves and the products they sample and purchase. When she enters a beauty store, she goes straight for the mirrors. “I always look at myself to see if they got the lighting right.”
Shelly, of Regency Lighting Studio, goes a step further and stresses that lighting not only can delight the senses but also “can become a noticeable distraction and detriment to the function and beauty of a space” when done wrong. He stresses that when lighting sources are too cool in temperature (blue tones as opposed to warmer tones), customers look dull and lackluster.
So how do you achieve balance? Gim believes soft ambient lighting is the key. While directed light is good for highlighting merchandise, it should be balanced by indirect light- ing close to mirrors to flatter all skin tones. She compares the technique to old-fashioned theatrical dressing rooms. She says: “Like Las Vegas dressing rooms, where they have the marquee lighting that’s liter- ally the frame around the mirrors that performers use while applying makeup. All that soft light is on your face—and not behind you.”
LIGHT THE WAY TO HIGHER SALES
Burdi points out that products are often improperly lit, making items difficult to choose from or hard to find–an issue he had to address in the Murale redesign. “We used halogens to create focusable light in every area with the right color temperature. The end result successfully achieved a space that did not rely on task lighting, so end users could migrate everywhere around the store while shopping for products and still see themselves in their best light.”
These types of choices can influence your bottom line. Spacesmith’s Miller asserts that poor product sales can be directly attributed to inadequate lighting. “How merchandise is featured drastically affects the choices of consumers when shopping. The way in which a product is displayed and called to attention can influence a consumer in their purchasing choices,” he says.
He and others have identified a universal solution: more-flexible lighting options with fixtures that can be angled. Direct lighting is affordable to install and can pay off in increased sales as strategically placed and lighted products gain more attention. Spacing products far apart, such as in display cases, also helps. This makes the items appear special or one-of-a-kind. This technique can be especially effective when paired with products that have a unique or metallic finish or sparkly packaging. Miller suggests illuminating items from behind to achieve an eye-catching glow.
Gim also recommends installing makeup mirrors with adjustable lighting–day to evening, sunlight or candlelight. This customizable approach allows customers to envision how makeup will look for a wedding, a night out or a day at the office. Be careful to avoid harsh shadows, though. They’re unflattering and make it difficult to discern color properly. Both Gim and Shelly advise using high color- rendering light sources within the neutral temperature range of 3,000K to 3,500K.
Even the budget-conscious business owner can improve sales and client satisfaction with small adjustments or baby steps toward a total retrofit. As we move toward more sustainable energy sources, the variety of color options available will expand. Beauty retailers can no longer afford to lag behind, using outdated and inefficient lighting sources. Doug Root, co-owner and president of Atlanta Light Bulbs, believes that the correct lighting is imperative for the cosmetics retailer. “If you want happy customers, you need good lighting that ensures their expectations and your results are a perfect match.”
[Murale store photos by Ben Rahn, A-Frame; Cremieux store photo by Alexander Severin, courtesy Spacesmith; bottom: Kris Connor/Stringer/Getty Images for NYX Professional Makeup]