A new retail lighting approach

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I have been working as a lighting designer for nearly 20 years, yet my first retail project was only two years ago. So why are we now being contacted on a regular basis? The answer is very simple, it is our unique approach and the fact that we do not subscribe to traditional thinking when it comes to retail lighting design. In fact, most of those who contact us have seen aspects of our work from other design sectors, such as museum lighting, branding strategies, visitor centers…. the list goes on.
We are now in a position where Michael Grubb Studio has provided lighting designs for various established and well-known brands, from Guinness to children’s online retailer GLTC, to cosmetic giants LUSH.
For these projects, we carried out avast amount of research and development. We listened, we interacted with products and stores, we collaborated and, above all, we took the customer with us on the creative journey. We often took large backward steps, we often challenged opinions. Our approach has been very successful.
So why are retailers looking for fresh ideas?
The 2017 ‘Edelman Trust Survey’ revealed that the trust in Brands is at its lowest point for a generation. The ‘Damon Worldwide’ survey also revealed that 60 per cent of shoppers now want interaction and demonstrations in stores. In addition, The UK Green Building Council recently stated that retail sector was behind on how the physical environment affects staff and customers’ health, well-being and productivity. These are significant statements and ones that inadvertently open the door to a new lighting approach.

Historically, the retail lighting sector was largely controlled by suppliers who had a vested interest in selling their products in large volumes. This in turn created overly lit outlets that did little to enhance brand values. In fact, it essentially made everyone look the same. Additionally, the lack of respect towards the lighting design profession also resulted in low design fees, which in turn led to too many lighting designers adopting a ‛factory line’ approach where schemes were delivered in a matter of hours.

The internet changed everything. Online and offline were once two very separate worlds. But with the rise of e-commerce and in particular mobile e-commerce, the distinction between online and offline is blurring rapidly. The internet has allowed retailers to connect with potential customers and express their brand in entirely new ways, and physical stores have become a part of their communication and sales strategy instead of being their only way to reach consumers.

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Those brands that can seamlessly integrate the online and in-store environments to create experiences of interaction, and not just transaction, will be those who are here for the long term. The physical space represents out-of-home entertainment as much as the retail industry. Creating these shared experiences is the biggest asset the physical space has. Alongside the ability to entertain, is the opportunity to build loyalty.

The retail environment is clearly shifting. Retailers are now living in a period of transition, with those who invest in design, layout and customer experience seeing the commercial reward. The in-store experience becomes more pronounced when it takes a customer-centric approach. This means that every retailer has a single view of their customer, who s/he is, what they want, and how they behave.

Over the last 18 months we have been working with LUSH Cosmetics. They are a great client and a exemple of a brand realising they needed to engage with customers and promote brand values. They admitted that they did not like their lighting schemes – but they did not know why. This is where we came in.

Our role was to listen, guide and educate the client. It was more than providing a lighting scheme. The process took 6 months to conclude and in that time we visited stores, met with those who made the products, we met with the interior design teams and we listened to project managers who delivered projects. We then tested products, not just with light but on ourselves. It was this all inclusive approach that allowed us to truly understand who LUSH are.

A series of lighting tests using various techniques and technologies followed. We demonstrated what they had, what they could do and even showed examples of bad lighting design. We were educating the client so they understood the decision making process. Numerous decisions were then collectively made, with the Xicato Artist 2700K LED lamp being considered the most appropriate for track spotlights.

The process then led on to how we could incorporate the same technology within decorative (often reclaimed) pendants, wall lanterns and table luminaires. We zoned the various areas of the store and decided on which displays would benifit from integrated lighting.

The end result was extremely successful. Sales have increased, products have been enhanced and energy consumption has been halved. The client was shocked, as they had a superior lighting scheme at reduced cost. All of which has led them to appoint us to design the remaining 950 stores worldwide.

This is just one example of a large scale brand retailer acknowledging that the world has changed and that they needed to respond to it.

So lets conclude.

Retailers are starting to realise the psychological impact that lighting can have on the retail experience. Lighting is the new conduit for engagement, acting as a flexible medium that can influence, enhance and create meaningful experiences that customers can relate to and engage with. All of which mean that the impact of lighting in the retail industry is no longer underestimated. With its power to engage, enhance brand values and influence human behaviour at the forefront of retailers’ thinking, this means that the retail world has shifted from beautification to experience-led environments. The world of retail has become more focused on the environment, not just the transactions made.
Retailers are no longer looking for a lighting scheme – they instead want to be educated so they fully understand how lighting can enhance their products and brand values. Our clients reflect our approach. We simply inspire others to think and act differently.

Michael Grubb