I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Weiland, Director, Retail Vertical, Acuity Brands 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?

Weiland: Lighting in retail spaces can be characterized in two ways:  A necessary evil and a powerful tool in a merchandizer’s tool box.  Sure, lighting is a cost, and some retailers initially see it that way, but lighting is also necessary to help customers not only find what they are looking for, but to also feel comfortable while engaging in the shopping experience. And creating a great customer experience is more important than ever as more and more retailers try to combat ecommerce eating away at their brick-and-mortar sales.

So, quality of light is being used as an effective merchandising tool as well because it has been proven to increase basket size. The challenge has been how to manage cost, provide quality illumination and positively impact the bottom line.

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

Weiland: The higher the CRI the better. A higher CRI will render colors more vividly which is especially critical when retailing items such as clothing, produce or jewelry.  Natural sunlight provides the highest CRI available, so while skylights are not a requirement, they’re used a lot in retail to provide that high CRI. Yet, in spaces without access to natural daylight, new technologies like tunable white can deliver a similar or same CRI with artificial light. Tunable white is a good alternative.

Use shadows and contrast thoughtfully to impact your space. Well-placed directional lighting can help boost the customer’s perception of product value or help to direct them to high-value areas like end-caps and higher margin merchandise.

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?

Weiland: An ongoing trend is the importance of controls for lighting as a result of code, compliance energy savings or enhanced capability to manage a space. A trend that continues to grow in this space, however, is the ability to control multiple locations from headquarters, or a mobile device so lighting control software continues to be a growing trend in retail.

Biophilia only seems to grow in retail, especially high-end retail and with retailers with a green brand. With lighting, this trend results in bigger windows and lots of skylights to bring natural light into the space. And where natural light is impossible, say in the 3rd floor of a mall, lighting technology like tunable white can get a similar emotional reaction from customers. There’s even lighting that mimics clouds passing overhead to add another layer of naturalism to artificial light.

Retailers everywhere are challenged with omni-channel strategies and getting people into their stores. Using lighting to help is a trend that will only continue to grow. Some retailers are installing consistent lighting as an extension of their brand. Some use lighting to create multiple dynamic spaces to make their stores more of a destination. And many are experimenting, if not using, visual light communication in luminaires to provide the technology platform to support, enhance or even deliver their omni-channel strategies.

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

Weiland: As mentioned above, tunable white is definitely an emerging market for retail lighting, because it really does make a dramatic impact on the space, leading to better experiences and better sales while still providing energy savings that retailers often require from their lighting.

Another new market that is quickly emerging in retail lighting is Visible Light Communication (VLC). This luminaire-based indoor positioning provides retailers, and brands, the ability to communicate directly with shoppers, deploy associates and assets more efficiently and deliver analytics of shopper behaviors in store. More and more retailers are realizing they already have a lot of the hardware they need to deploy this type of system in their retail environments because they have the lighting infrastructure already. As a result, this new market will only grow in the future.

An interesting new market for retail lighting is uplighting. This is a particularly important trend in “big box” retail where lighting the high ceilings often creates a cave-like, gloomy effect that customers feel and the glare can make it difficult to see products on the top shelf. So more and more high bays and strips lights are becoming available with direct uplight or more vertical footcandles in order to create better illumination and lighting uniformity that these retailers really value.

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?

Weiland: The latest technologies. Lighting is so much more than it used to be and it’s changing all the time. Because retailers are on the forefront of lighting design, there’s an opportunity for electrical distributors to guide them to, for example, the right CRI, quality fixtures that can be fixed, not thrown away, and controls that comply with building energy codes.

Lighting controls are important in a lot of ways but there remains a lot of confusion about their value. Electrical distributors who can help retail customers, not just comply with codes but leverage a smart controls strategy that future-proofs their systems from changes down the road will find a lot of success.

Rebates, financing and trial installation programs. Electrical distributors have a great opportunity to leverage their local knowledge and relationships with manufacturers to help their retail customers navigate the various rebate programs offered by local utilities and governments and trail installation possibilities offered by manufacturers in order to make a sale to a retail customer.

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

Weiland: Cost remains a challenge when decision makers don’t consider the lifetime cost of a system. Not all LEDs are created equal and it’s too easy to make a lighting decision solely on payback. But this can cost retailers literally millions in lighting costs because, of course, payback doesn’t account for maintenance. And we see it all the time; customers get a cheap lighting system but end up paying substantially more overall once they start fixing all their luminaires in all their stores. Electrical distributors can help retail customers look at the total cost of ownership not just the lowest initial cost.

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?

Weiland: Downlighting is a great opportunity for retrofits as recent LED technology has significantly improved lumens per watt and the existing installed base is known to be a large consumer of energy.

There are also considerable outdoor retrofit opportunities where energy costs can soar as retailers seek to keep their parking lots or garages feeling secure.

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?

Weiland: Obviously the first step is determining what the customer’s goals are, all of them because, as I mentioned before, retail lighting is so much more than energy savings.

But regardless of a retailer’s goals the project, a retail customer will be tightly focused on how they can maximize ROI. Lighting is a large piece of the energy puzzle and with LED, smart retrofitting means they will not need to touch that space for another 8-10-15 years! So electrical distributors can distinguish themselves by being knowledgeable about which retrofit solutions will ensure long-lasting, high quality of light with minimal or no maintenance, even when designs or codes change. This includes knowing which controls platforms will future-proof their retail customers from changing codes and which solutions offer software updates rather than hardware overhauls. With this knowledge an electrical distributor can help their retail customers focus on the lowest total cost of ownership in order to maximize their ROI.

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

Weiland: Lighting controls platforms are becoming easier to deploy and to manage as technology improves.  Lighting controls traditionally play a role in energy management and visual performance.  Moving forward, controls platforms will become more connected with other systems within the building to enhance these strategies even more and become a powerful backbone for analytics in the space.  Evaluate the different connection options (wireless, wired), communication protocols, security, factory integration options, ease to commission and how it can be serviced after it is commissioned.

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

Weiland: VLC technologies offer a ton of opportunities for retailers and brands to communicate directly with customers and to generate valuable analytics that have never been available for in-store sales. And because lights are powered and placed throughout a retail space, they’re the perfect backbone for this type of technology.

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

Weiland: Move quickly.  Sell the total value.