Merchandising Know-How: Lighting Refresher -- Quick tips to better light

Lighting for retail is all about contrast and focus. Too much of any type of lighting reduces contrast and focus. To achieve the best lighting, balance ambient and accent lighting.

Lighting for retail is all about contrast and focus. Too much of any type of lighting reduces contrast and focus. To achieve the best lighting, balance ambient and accent lighting.

Ambient Lighting: Ambient lighting is general, uniform lighting using light fixtures that distribute the light widely, directly or indirectly. Ambient lighting enables customers to see and examine the merchandise and the sales staff to complete the sale.

Accent Lighting: Accent lighting is spot lighting used to provide higher levels of light in a focused pattern to accentuate selected objects. Accent lighting sets products apart, creates highlights, enhances product textures and attracts attention.

Quick Tips:

• Put accent light sources close to the merchandise.

• Use accent lighting to establish a hierarchy of importance. Since the eye is attracted to the brightest object in the field of view and then to the next brightest, provide the highest wattage or the tightest focus lamps on the most important items or areas of the store.

• For accent lighting, use narrow beam spotlights like Halogen PARs or low-voltage MR-16s. Low-voltage lamps have small filaments, enabling tighter focus of the beams. Low voltage is an energy-effective choice for accent lighting.

• Use exposed or decorative lighting fixtures to attract attention to specific displays or areas of the store.

• For ambient lighting, use efficient, diffused sources, like fluorescents.

• Use the fewest types of lighting to get the desired effect and reduce maintenance.

• Use the lightest colors on interior surfaces and shelving to increase the reflective value of lighting sources.

• Use organized patterns of light fixtures. Chaotic patterns may confuse, agitate or fatigue customers.

• Use high color rendering lamps for both ambient and accent lighting. High color rendering lamps preserve the true colors of merchandise. The new tri-phosphor technology in fluorescent lamps provides superior color rendering in a wide variety of lamp types. Select fluorescent lamps designated 830.

• Consider neon or colored lights for window displays or to identify departments.

A footnote:

A retail environment reflects the values of the company, and eco-friendly materials (including lighting) are abundant. Learn how to apply green design principles in retail at the Green Design Conference & Expo, Oct. 1-2, 2007, at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, Ga. For more information, go to If you decide to attend, use the VIP discount code GEGCI.

Sharon Leicham is the creator of The MerchandisingHUB, the author of "Merchandising Your Way to Success" and "How to Sell to Women" and is a regular columnist for SNEWS® writing on merchandising and marketing topics. You can access all of her columns by going to, where you will find tons of information targeted at the needs of the independent specialty retailer. You can email us with questions and comments at

For more retail training support and know-how, be sure to check out the SNEWS® Business 101 tools and stories, including our 10-part Retail Merchandising Training series produced by SNEWS®, including a useful online calculator for performing the most common retail merchandising calculations -- free to All Access Subscribers.


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