Flip of a switch
By Carol Radice
Technological advancements are taking lighting out of the dark ages. Many people take lighting for granted. Plug in a cord; flip a switch and voilà—light. Among retail executives lighting is often viewed as a functional element, nothing more. However, advancements are helping retailers see the diverse role lighting can play in building a better shopping experience. Lighting can help retailers distinguish themselves from competitors. It can place a stronger focus on products, helping them look their best. Newer lighting options can also reduce energy bills while increasing a product’s shelf life. “By creating a distinctive and memorable environment, retailers can offer a unique shopping experience,” says Michael Lehman, vice president of product development and marketing for ConTech Lighting based in Northbrook, Ill. “Lighting plays a key role in achieving this.” While the benefits seem pretty clear, updating lighting systems has been met with resistance from some retailers, say industry observers. Success with lighting requires more than just having a “build it and they will come” mentality, they add. “To achieve the best results—product appearance, product life, space appearance and energy reduction—the right product has to be used the correct way. Put another way, all products are not created equal,” says Lehman. Observers say competitive pressure from other retail channels, including online merchants, is also pushing grocers to create a more compelling reason for shoppers to come into their store. As a result retailers are rethinking and reworking the overall look and feel of their stores, including lighting. “We are seeing a move away from strictly using ambient lighting and a desire to use lighting to create a more layered look as well as to create little vignettes within the store,” says Ryan Rodau, retail marketing manager for GE Lighting, based in East Cleveland, Ohio. He adds that retailers are using lighting as a way to send customers to a destination section within the store or simply an area with high price points or higher margin products. Done correctly, lighting can also help attract consumers’ attention by making products that may have previously been overlooked stand out. “Today’s lighting design strategy is all about improving the shopper’s experience by enhancing the visual appeal of products,” says Rick Leeds, vertical marketing manager for Osram Sylvania, based in Danvers, Mass. “Good lighting can move a consumer toward finding products and specials that might have otherwise been missed.” Leeds adds that the ability to “tune in” customers by improving lighting quality, intensity and visibility based on a lighting system that responds to environmental factors such as the time of day, people and traffic in the store is easily attainable today. Lower overhead costs and maintenance are not only the benefits of LED systems. They also send a message to customers that the store is actively involved in sustainability. A key driver behind changing ambient and case lighting from fluorescent tubes to LEDs has been increased energy efficiency. “That goes a long way with a lot of the public in their decision to shop one retailer or another,” says Leeds. Observers say implementing the best lighting strategy is anything but simple. Many see opportunities in three primary key areas in supermarkets: ambient lighting or traditional overhead lighting, accent lighting that highlights specific areas within the selling area and refrigerated case lighting. “As retailers have become educated about LED lighting they are more interested in learning how to create a smooth transition from one department to another, seeing how case lighting can complement the store’s ambient lighting and how lighting can allow the consumer to have a more pleasant shopping experience,” says Bruce Schneider, a sales specialist, merchandising lighting for the Hussmann Corp., based in Bridgeton, Mo. Retailers are also beginning to understand that not all LEDs are the same, says Schneider. As a result, retailers are seeing the importance of selecting LED fixtures designed for a specific purpose. “By applying an application specific product with the proper color temperature retailers can make destination departments within their stores and drive sales with integrated lighting solutions,” he says. Despite the benefits that come from updated lighting, when design plans are created, lighting is sometimes a secondary thought. More often, the bulk of the budget is spent on higher end cases, decor/sign packages or expensive flooring and the lighting package gets whatever funds are left. Observers say retailers are beginning to see that without investing in quality lighting the capital outlay for those other features will be squandered. “What good is a great decor package if the quality of light is so poor customers can’t appreciate the effort?” says Lee Rhoades, COO for BARO North America, based in St Louis, Mo. “Retailers are starting to realize how much a good lighting choice can drive sales and profit.” Rhoades says that some of BARO’s customers are seeing up to a 30% gain in sales just from installing BARO lighting. Given the vast number of lighting products available for a retrofit, making the right choice can be confusing. “Deciding which products to implement can be difficult when you’re not a lighting expert,” says Leeds. “A holistic approach to all of the lighting in a store, with a strategy for implementing the change outs required is really the best method to achieving great results. Create a plan and then work the plan.” He says the best place to start, is with an overall audit of the store’s existing lighting, a sustainability and quality of light goal and then the selection of the best products that meet the needs of the goal. Another obstacle is a preconception that quality lighting is not a worthy investment. “Retailers see the ALDIs and Walmarts out there with the most basic lighting packages that consist completely of low quality strip fluorescents in rows across the ceiling,” says Rhoades. “They think to themselves, ‘if these retailers are making money with bad lighting why should I spend money for good lighting?’” Among those that have made the leap to better lighter are independent supermarkets. “Independents understand they need to stand out from the crowd and provide their customers an elevated shopping experience to draw them away from the box store down the street,” says Rhoades. “Nothing can change the ambiance and shopability of a store like lighting can.” Bob Semerau, sales and marketing manager for LEDingEDGE Lighting, based in Camarillo, Calif., says that today’s LEDs, can offer precise color suite for specific merchandise. “The lower-energy output and cost-savings initially associated with LED lighting has often overshadowed its more salient and lasting value for retailers: superior light quality that makes merchandise look more attractive to shoppers, thereby driving more consumer sales,” he says. “That’s not to say that LED was always a perfect science. The technology has continually evolved through new breakthroughs and rigorous testing based on the specific needs of the retail environment.” Rodau is optimistic that many of these spending challenges can be overcome. He says the fact that some architectural firms are putting lighting designers on staff to try and keep lighting needs at the forefront during the planning phase as a step in the right direction. “Changes within lighting are enabling today’s design aspirations to become reality. The trick in getting retailers to open their purse strings is to focus less on the initial costs and more on the long-term benefit,” he says. Lighting the way Officials at ConTech have introduced a number of new products recently including O2 LED, mini O2 LED and CTL171 LED wall wash track fixtures LED Pendants and LED Certified Tapelights. Lehman says these let retailers put lights in places they could not before. “The flexible, low voltage linear LED accent lighting system offers high quality illumination for a wide range of indoor applications. Our Tapelights consume less energy while delivering 130 lumens per foot (based on 3,000k tape) and offer consistent, stable performance,” he says. Leeds says Osram Sylvania’s professional ambient luminaires are a best choice for replacing overhead lighting in an existing store. Designed to optimize light output and color, reduce glare and provide maximum illumination to product displays, Leeds says that the luminaires save energy and exceed performance of most ‘retrofit’ devices. “For refrigeration and freezer applications, Osram Sylvania’s LEDstixx series for both horizontal and vertical applications provide excellent customer see-ability of products deep into cases while reducing the heat added into those cases, which in turn reduces the extra burden on the case cooling equipment,” he says. This year, BARO introduced its Omega Z1 linear LED which was specifically engineered to light supermarket aisles. With center store struggles such a hot topic, Rhoades says changing the way this huge section of the store is perceived can really turn things around. “The Omega Z1, when compared to the typical fluorescent system, will significantly increase actual light on the product while using a third of the energy,” he says. In addition, BARO has recently introduced its next generation LED family, the Alpha H2, which allows retailers to light more displays with fewer fixtures and less energy. Hussmann officials are excited about their EcoShine II Plus LED, which features canopy, mullion and shelf light options for in-case lighting. The company has a specially designed fixture for door “upgrades” where French style doors are added to existing medium temperature, multi-deck cases in dairy, beverage, produce and meat departments. Door “upgrades” have special lighting needs due to the four-foot door opening and the distance between the LED and the product display, which can vary from eight to 14 inches, say officials. The EcoShine II Plus has been designed for this use and maximizes product visibility without shadows and dark areas, says Bohuczky. LEDingEDGE unveiled its newest innovation in the Mini-Orion series, a 118-lumen per watt LED. The company is offering retailers an opportunity to try its LED luminaires for a free 30-day trial. “From this new, brighter true-color luminaire and in each of its LED products, LEDingEDGE is committed to achieving maximum utility and merchandising potential for retailers,” says Semerau. Rodau says GE’s focus this year is on luminaires. The company will be coming out with fully integrated systems that include the light source, electronics, the fixture and controls. “The days are gone when retailers simply want to flip a switch and turn a light on. They expect lighting to offer more in terms of energy management and aesthetics including dimming down, daylight harvesting and demand response, all of which require sophisticated intelligence within the fixture,” says Rodau.