I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Foley, VP Brand Management, Cree Lighting. The topic: trends in retail lighting. I’m happy to share his responses with you here. The interview informed an article I wrote for the February 2017 issue of tED.

DiLouie: How would you characterize retail facilities as a market for lighting? What types of applications and categories characterize this market?

Foley: Retail applications have long been at the forefront of the lighting market and remain so today. Although different types of retail applications vary widely in their lighting needs, they often drive improvements in light color, optical control, energy efficiency, maintenance, lighting control and more.

DiLouie: What are the basic lighting requirements in a retail space, and how do they distinguish this market from other applications?

Foley: Retail lighting requirements differ considerably by the type of application. Big box retail applications usually prioritize energy efficiency, maintenance cost (i.e. life), luminous uniformity, and low installed cost. Boutique retail applications usually prioritize color quality (i.e. high Color Rendering Index) and glare control. Certain specialized retail applications may prioritize other unique attributes. For example, jewelry stores often require very small point sources with relatively high color temperature to make gemstones sparkle while favoring lower color temperature sources for areas displaying gold.

DiLouie: What are the major recent trends in retail lighting, and how are they impacting lighting needs? What new opportunities for lighting are being created by these trends?

Foley: LED lighting has become the proven path to better light for retail applications. LED sources allow retailers to dramatically lower the cost of ownership of the lighting system through high system efficacy (high lumens delivered per watt consumed), long life, and high color rendering. LED sources also produce far less heat unlike incandescent sources, and do not flicker unlike fluorescent sources.

DiLouie: Are there any new markets that are developing in retail lighting, such as tunable-white lighting?

Foley: Absolutely, LED lighting opens up a whole new range of opportunities for dynamic lighting control. While dimming control has long been available in various types of lighting, with LED, dimming has never been easier or more effective. LED technology also enables consideration of color tuning to a user preset or even installation-variable range of color temperatures. This is a relatively new application capability not yet widely used in retail applications but is of significant interest as retailers consider uses for this capability.

DiLouie: What types of lighting equipment are common in retail facilities?

Foley: Lighting equipment for retail applications is as diverse as the applications themselves. Boutique shops and high-end retail applications generally favor the discreet, clean ceiling appearance of recessed luminaires. Big box retail favors highbay luminaires for their high mounting height, efficiency, low maintenance and, often, moderate up-light. High-end retail applications utilize accent lighting to create the non-uniform brightness patterns necessary to highlight merchandise displays while mainstream department stores favor the economy of general ambient lighting. Track lighting remains an excellent choice for accent lighting due to its positioning and aiming flexibility.

DiLouie: What are three major aspects of this lighting market that electrical distributors need to become educated about to distinguish their expertise or otherwise take full advantage of selling opportunities?


1. The importance of color rendering to the perceived value of merchandise.
2. Opportunities to reduce the total cost of ownership of the lighting system to the retail owner through the energy efficiency and labor savings inherent to LED lighting.
3. The evolving opportunity for lighting controls.

DiLouie: What challenges remain for LED lamps and luminaires in this market?

Foley: LED technology and products have evolved to the point of now offering a range of extremely robust solutions to the challenges of retail lighting. The opportunity now is in increased adoption through increased customer awareness.

DiLouie: What kinds of retrofit opportunities are available that offer good selling opportunities to electrical distributors in retail applications? What should they look for in an existing building?

Foley: Customers must evaluate the benefits of retrofit vs. relight and are encouraged to do so on a case-by-case basis. Excellent LED retrofit solutions are available to convert many existing linear fluorescent luminaires to LED. The most robust of these are for troffers. In the case of such other product types as highbay luminaires, for example, replacement of the fluorescent or HID luminaire with a new LED luminaire is often a better approach both in terms of installed cost and result. Lamp replacement alone is usually not a good solution in most cases. A notable exception is replacement of incandescent PAR and MR lamps with their LED counterparts in track lights, which can often be a simple and effective upgrade.

DiLouie: How should electrical distributors engage their customers on retail lighting projects? What is the process from determining owner needs to recommending a solution or finding the right product? Where can they add value and distinguish themselves from the competition?

Foley: Retail customer engagement begins with an objective assessment of the customer’s environment, needs, objectives, and constraints. Diligence in this inquiry creates a funnel through which the variety of retail lighting solutions can be considered, eventually honing in on an appropriate solution.

DiLouie: What role can lighting controls play in retail spaces? What are the opportunities for distributors to incorporate controls into projects?

Foley: Lighting controls have evolved considerably in the overall market. That evolution has accelerated tremendously in recent years with the convergence of wireless and LED technology. That being said, the use of lighting controls in retail applications is still in its infancy. Lighting for retail applications has traditionally been thought of as an “all on” condition, regardless of shopper occupancy. Thus, the use of lighting controls in retail has been largely rudimentary, primarily manifest in photo-controls around skylights in big box retail applications, and in astronomical clocks and related devices in outdoor retail parking lots. The potential for much more imaginative use of lighting controls is possible in the future by leveraging the convergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) with personal devices (e.g. smartphones) and wireless lighting control technology.

DiLouie: What opportunities exist for using lighting to communicate with customers and generate analytics?

Foley: LED technology offers intelligent solutions for retail applications that were once not possible. Lighting controls for retail applications have the capability to become a data-rich tool that will improve all facets of a space. The technology, currently being implemented in whole buildings, allows all networks (lighting, HVAC, internet, phones…etc.) to be converted into one control panel. This is completed through Power over Ethernet (PoE), allowing all system devices to communicate with each other to provide real-time data for building managers. Occupancy sensors allow system mangers to collect data across the board, which in return can be used to improve overall efficiencies, store traffic flow, customer happiness and profit margins.

DiLouie: If you could tell all electrical distributors just one thing about today’s retail lighting market, what would it be?

Foley: Demand for better lighting solutions will continue to grow in the retail lighting market. Technology integration matters and is paramount to delivering new forms of consumer value. LED technology offers better solutions for retail applications, but it is important to note that not all LEDs are created equal. Be mindful of the individual retail store’s needs and know that the lighting choices you make today will stay with you for decades.

DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?

Foley: The focus is shifting from cheaper technology to better products and services with affordability being an added bonus. LED technology continues to offer better lighting solutions for all retail facility needs. The potential for LED technology goes well beyond what we originally thought was possible and we at Cree will continue to innovate and challenge the possibilities and potential.