Comment, Retail

​Thanks to LEDs, brown is the new white

I am starting to notice a disturbing trend on Britain’s streets – the increasing number of brown cars. I’m not on about Chelsea tractors splattered with mud, but that someone has deliberately chosen to buy a car that has been painted brown.

The colour seems to offered by a wide gamut of car manufactures in a variety of shades and textures from flat brown to metallic brown.

I would love to stop one of the owners and ask how they arrived at the decision to ignore the vast array of vibrant colours on offer, stay away from a safe black or pure white, and end up with a brown car. Perhaps it was down to the lighting.

I picture a scene where Mrs Jones, having already been upsold an array of baffling expensive extras, must choose a colour from pro salesman Terry Tibbs’ colour chart. She thought she had chosen purple only to find out when the car is delivered that it is finest brown.

“LED flat panel. The name says it all – flat, carpet-bombed uniform illumination of the floor; no shadows, no drama and no light on the ceiling”

My thinking behind this is that I’m now seeing LED lighting technology being adopted in retail on a huge scale – from high-end retail down to budget stores. I estimate that in a new-build retail development near my home, most of the outlets are 100 per cent LED, or close to it.

This shows us what is possible with LEDs – both good and bad. It is great to get a whole bunch of LED installations in one area, driven by different objectives and installed at the same time. This lets us establish who is getting it right and who should, perhaps, understand lighting a little better.

In this particular retail development, sandwiched between a department store that has done an OK lighting job and Next, which is one of the lighting champions on the high street, is a shoe shop.

I am not going to name and shame just yet because this may be a trial LED store and everyone is entitled to make a mistake. But if this is part of a rollout, then I may have found Britain’s worst lit shop, reaching depths of dullness unparalleled even by the WHSmith LED retrofit programme.

This store is a double victim of the lighting industry’s finest, the first being LED flat panels. The name says it all – a room lit with just flat panels is what it says: flat, carpet-bombed uniform illumination of the floor; no shadows, no drama and no light on the ceiling. Barely excusable in a utility space, but in retail just plain awful.

Perhaps the most inexcusable crime is to chose a flat panel in what I call Dracula White. That is a white light that has had the red sucked out, rendering its victim dull and lifeless. Dracula White in theory should be better than the 10000K Alien Autopsy White of a few years ago, but it isn’t. Yes, Alien Autopsy white made you look like an extra from Star Wars, but it could never be accused of being dull. The Dracula combination of 4000K and a low colour-rendering index does not do the flawed Ra index any justice.

Another way to describe the colour of Dracula White is… brown. This particular retailer might have thought that tending towards brown light would highlight the brownness of the shoes and accentuate the blacks, but combined with the flatness of a flat panel and a red corporate logo, they have created the high street equivalent of a black hole. It’s so bad I’m scared to step inside, so I haven’t.

The holy grail of retail lighting is to find a solution that leads to increased sales, I may not have found that yet, but I suspect I have witnessed a solution that could lead to decreased sales.

Unless, that is, you have a brown car.