How to Light, Retail

How to Light: Three ways to light a shop display

This Design Clinic is more about lighting techniques than alternative ways to light a space. The retail sector is a hugely important part of our economy and, as a result, it has its own supporting services sector of which lighting design consultancy forms an important part.

Retail design is as much about aesthetics as illumination levels. You must consider aspects such as brand image and mood. This design clinic is about techniques that can be applied to all types of display lighting. As a crude generalisation, regardless of the market sector, the higher the average illumination level and more uniform the lighting, the less ‘exclusive’ is the brand image. Think of the lighting in a burger chain compared with a small, expensive restaurant. Similarly, compare the lighting in standard and first class railway carriages.

In Australia, there is the added need to keep the energy load down in the store because the stores are charged an annual rate by the shopping centre to cover the centre’s overall energy cost. This is based on the energy consumption per square metre of each shop. Minimising the energy consumption of the lighting has both direct savings and indirect ones in the reduced air-conditioning charge from the shopping centre.

A useful general approach to the lighting design is the technique of layering. This is where the overall design is built up by considering the different uses of the lighting. For example, you need to provide enough light for public safety in circulation areas, near steps and where there are changes of level.

Another ‘layer’, and the one that involves most design skill and effort, is lighting the products on sale. It can be argued that this is the most important aspect of retail lighting  –if no-one is attracted in to your shop, the rest is wasted effort.

Don’t forget functionally important areas such as the payment desk and returned goods section.

Our three options show a very simplified version of this layering technique.

The views shown in the renderings measure about 5 x 12m with a 3.5m ceiling.



Panel lighting in all its guises is a very popular way of providing a good, overall illumination in a retail space. It’s great in terms of watts per square metre and providing overall uniformity. The Aglo Lumo panel is available in a range of physical sizes and light output. If you want energy-efficient, uniform, functional lighting, this is it. The only decision to make is what lux level you want.

This notional design achieves around 450 lx horizontally and about half that on the vertical surfaces of the merchandise. It could easily be much brighter and achieve 900 lx simply by doubling the quantity of panels. As with all recessed flat panel schemes, the ceiling is a bit dark. Most shoppers won’t notice this because they are looking at the goods on display.

What this scheme doesn’t do is excite the shopper. It’s easy to fit, low energy and efficient but customers are unlikely to linger.

Tech Spec

  • Luminaires Lumo 300 x 1,200mm recessed panel
  • Optical control Opal
  • Arrangement As shown
  • Average horizontal illuminance 450 lx
  • Electrical load 7W/m2
  • Pros Lowest energy consumption per square metre
  • Cons Rather flat appearance



This is the opposite to Option A and uses narrow angle Shopra track-mounted spotlights to light the merchandise. Although the average horizontal illumination is only a little more, the effect is dramatically different. One reason is that the illumination on the vertical surfaces (the goods customers are considering buying) is almost twice as much as A. There is also a much greater difference in illumination between the areas that are highlighted and those that are not.

One thing you don’t want in a store is customers wandering around looking for where they have to pay. We have highlighted the payment area with Wally spotlights. These give a broad spread of light and are fully adjustable both horizontally and vertically. We have used the powerful 43W version.

Tech Spec

  • Luminaires Shopra and Wally spotlights
  • Optical control Reflectors
  • Arrangement As shown
  • Average horizontal illuminance 550 lx
  • Electrical load 8W/m2
  • Pros The light is where you want it
  • Cons Make sure you aim the spotlights correctly

Best of both

Best of both

This is a combination of Point Mini spotlights in a ceiling slot plus some background lighting provided by high output LED tape in the Stealth extrusion.

The merchandise is highlighted with a 22-degree beam adjustable Point Mini spotlight. The ceiling slot conceals the track and just the body of the spotlight protrudes beneath. They are low wattage, so you can use them to light individual objects, islands, or points of sale.

For background ambient lighting, we have made ‘squares of light’ mounted on the ceiling using the Stealth LED Profile family. This is a wide range of aluminium extrusions that can have diffusers clipped on the top. The LED tape is then fixed inside. This, again, is available in a wide range of power, light output and colour temperatures.

This type of arrangement provides much more interest to the ceiling and works well in large stores.

Tech Spec

  • Luminaires High-power LED tape plus spotlights
  • Optical control Various
  • Arrangement As shown
  • Average horizontal illuminance 450 lx
  • Electrical load 9W/m2
  • Pros A good mixture of background and spot lighting
  • Cons You still have to watch the aiming