Comment, IoT/Smart Lighting, Retail

How smart retailers are using lighting to compete with online

Apple's stores are physical manifestations of its brand. Other retailers should take note

What is the single biggest influencer on a teenage girl’s shopping habits? Brand loyalty, store environment, product quality, ethical provenance, the lighting? None of these, but hey, you knew that already.

No, the candidate for the single biggest influencer on teens is a person. Step forward 24-year-old Zoe Elizabeth Sugg from Lacock in Wiltshire. As Zoella, she entertains seven million subscribers to her YouTube account with videos on fashion and beauty products, and has amassed a staggering third of a billion views. Don’t doubt for a moment that this girl can shift product: her recent book, Girl Online, achieved the highest first-week sales for a debut author since records began. Take that, JK!

Not only are teenage girls highly influenced by ‘vloggers’, some three-quarters of them prefer to shop online than in a store. They are also 65 per cent more likely to buy online than on the high street and are also influenced by price, brand, and their friends.

Alison Church of EasyFairs, which has researched the buying habits of teens, says these savvy shoppers are forcing marketeers to rethink their strategy. ‘Ask any of them what their favourite brands are, and they will rattle off a list of names their parents bank on – Topshop, Zara, New Look, Boots – but what’s more surprising is that these teenage girls are seeking to purchase from high-end brands like Space NK, Tiffany & Co and Chanel.’

Nothing that a parent of a teen girl couldn’t have told you. They like their luxury. But what’s coming through from this and other research is that this generation wants a very different retail landscape to the one we are used to.

So how can retailers respond? There has been much talk about stores ‘working harder’ and there’s broad agreement that outlets must become more experiential and brand reinforcing, rather than a big box to house product. And lighting has an obvious role to play in all this.

         Apple’s stores are manifestations of the marque that imbue the customers with a sense of cool”

So who’s getting it right? Retailers that have great stores with distinctive interiors and lighting that complements and underpins their online offers are, to my mind, few and far between. Here’s my top five:

Hollister, and its sister brand Abercrombie & Fitch, are awesome marketeers. After all, they’re selling fast fashion at a premium price – a nice trick if you can pull it off. So how do you sell a Californian lifestyle in wintry Britain? By micromanaging your store environments, right down to looks of the staff – sorry, ‘models’ – you employ. Much has been written about the extreme lighting – not least in these pages – but the dark, punchy, accent-only scheme puts off parents and is loved by the kids.

Niketown was one of the first experiential brands on the high street and it’s as good today as ever was. The bold, high tech (read expensive) fit-outs are complemented by crisp, precision lighting by top designers that makes the trainers the heroes.

H&M is another high street name that takes its interiors and lighting seriously. There’s no secret sauce here, though, just great use of graphics, simple wall washing and rock-solid spotlighting of the merchandise. These guys make it look easy.

Sky is not a traditional retailer, but its concessions and outlets in the nation’s shopping centres are all about branding as well as signing up customers to its broadband and TV services. Lighting is a key component in these dynamic, colourful installations that perfectly reflect the broadcaster’s offer.

However, if there’s one retailer that has the bricks-and-clicks balance nailed it’s Apple. These temples to the Word of Jobs are physical manifestations of the marque that imbue the customers with a sense of cool. And the large white ceiling light panels look like they could have been designed by Jony Ive and the team at Palo Alto.

But all retailers can use interiors and lighting to reinforce what they do.

It’s ironic, but interiors and lighting are going to be more important than ever. Welcome to the post-Black Friday, post-Zoella world.