Feature, Retail

Retail lighting rules and regs: everything you need to know, but were afraid to ask

Lighting in a retail environment is complex, and not just because of the aesthetic and business considerations that are necessary. There is also a wealth of retail-specific guidance – and even laws – that complicate things for anyone contemplating a life specifying lighting for shops. Never fear, Liz Peck is here to guide you through the maze of legislation, guidance and weird foibles that apply to retail lighting.



Let’s start with the elephant in the room: emergency lighting. Irrespective of how retailers choose to light their products, under the Fire Safety Order and health and safety legislation, it is a legal requirement for all non-domestic properties to provide a safe environment at all times, even if the mains fail. The recommendations are discussed below and like all guidance, you can ignore them. You’d do well to justify doing so if there were an accident though, so I would ignore them at your peril.

The ubiquitous Building Regulations also come into play for retailers when it comes to display lighting. The guidance is quite clear that display lighting should be on separate controls so it can be switched off when ‘people are not inspecting exhibits, merchandise or being entertained’. This means that however you are illuminating the store, the efficacy of the lighting installation during non-opening hours, such as for cleaning or cashing up, must meet the higher targets of general lighting.

Don’t forget that the equivalent regulations are now separated out between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so make sure you have the right guidance document for wherever you are.



Retail is a bit unusual where recommended lighting levels are concerned, principally because the workplace standard (EN 14264:1) relates to just that, the workplace, those working in the shop. But the lighting is generally not designed for those working, but for those who occupy the space transiently with the aspiration that a sale will take place. This is borne out by the rather twee section in the SLL Code for Lighting that recommends 300 lx for a sales area, 500 lx at the till and 500 lx on the wrapper table.

Abercrombie and Fitch famously lit their Sheffield Hollister store to less than 1 lx, and Primark was found to be lighting some of its stores well in excess of 1,200 lx (Lux magazine, January 2011), yet they both aspire to sell clothes, albeit at slightly different ends of the consumer spectrum.

This can be explained – if not justified in extreme cases – by the much more comprehensive guidance the SLL publishes in its Lighting Handbook. The section on retail lighting deals with the differing profiles of retailers, from low-budget to exclusive, each with their different frequencies of use, product range and sales style.

The guidance also covers the effect of different luminance ratios but recommends that general lighting should be uniform with only accent and display lighting creating the drama where required. Abercrombie & Fitch, take note.

Colour temperature is another area of focus, something that all retailers should note. With the greater use of LEDs, do you really want your fresh red meat to be lit with cool white LEDs, rendering it unattractive? Equally, if you’re selling high-end fashion, colour rendering must be as important a consideration as colour temperature.

Retail, especially at the high end, is an emotional experience. You must match the lighting to the customer experience. If you have a corner shop where the experience is essentially that of a customer who needs a pint of milk, that’s what you give them, a no-frills experience. If you’re Waitrose, though, you want your customers to loiter a while, buy things they certainly had no idea they were going to buy – and probably have no need for – but that’s why you have brightly lit end-of-aisle gondolas and keep moving the produce around.

Presumably, Hollister hopes you’ll get so hopelessly lost in the dark you’ll buy something just so you can ask the way out.

Returning to emergency lighting, SLL’s Lighting Guide 12 (LG12) explains all you need to know. There’s rather more to it than having 1 lx on the exit route and 0.5 lx in an open area. Contrary to some beliefs, although the legislation is fire-related, the requirements are for the provision of lighting when the mains power fails, not in a fire.

LG12 is not just for designers, it is also useful to specifiers, equipment providers, installers, users, maintainers and
enforcing authorities. The design guidance is there, but so is guidance of electrical design and installation, maintenance and testing procedures.



As has been discussed elsewhere, Esos (the Energy Saving Opportunities Scheme) applies to any UK company with 250 employees or with a turnover in excess of €50 million. This includes all organisations, including not-for-profit ones, that are part of a corporate group that meets these criteria.

This could affect retailers in a big way. There are 43,000 towns and cities in the UK, so any retailer with a store in even a few of those high streets is probably going to fall under the Esos requirements. Crucially, every employee counts, irrespective of whether they are part-time or full-time.

My local bakery is part of a chain of just under 100 shops but with more than three staff in each, so they will have to complete the Esos audit. Esos is meant for ‘large undertakings’ but I can see there are a lot of retailers that don’t consider themselves ‘large’, but will have to complete the audit.

With Esos covering every aspect of energy use, including transport, it’s far from a case of simply counting up the light fittings. Many retailers may not even realise it applies to them.



At what time does a high street store stop ‘displaying its merchandise’ and therefore, should have its window display switched off? How many people who have fallen out of the pub at midnight are really going to stop at M&S and admire the jeans? Yet most high streets have brightly lit window displays all night long.

We know that operators of shops and offices in France have been told to switch their lights off within an hour of the last person leaving the premises. 

I do think that’s a bit extreme – I don’t want to walk down dark streets – but equally I’m not often loitering around Leeds city centre at 3am, let alone admiring the window display at Harvey Nicks. Display lighting should only be on when it’s useful, so like curfews applied to exterior architectural lighting, which ceases to be of public benefit after midnight, so should our shop windows.


  • Find out more about the latest in lighting regulations at LuxLive 2018, Europe’s largest annual lighting event taking place on 14th & 15th November at the ExCeL London. Featuring eight conference tracks and over 100 expert industry speakers. Entry is FREE – simply register to attend HERE