Q and A: Store Lighting for Impact

I received the following email last week, asking for my assistance with a retail visual impact issue: how to counteract the darkness of dreary winter weather and early evenings during this season. I thought that since I had just completed a consultation with a new client to solve exactly the same problems, sharing some info about this issue might be helpful to many of you. It also applies to anyone who has a store that is deep with no windows, or that has small windows with limited natural light.

Dear Debi, I own a small card, stationery, gift shop in North Seattle (Richmond Beach). I need help with lighting -  on a sunny, summer morning my shop looks so inviting but when it starts getting dreary out, especially in the early evenings, the shop looks dreary as well. I'm also having trouble with fading. Some is caused by the sun coming through the windows but I think the lights are also a problem. My space has the (ugly) ceiling tiles with inset florescent lights and I have added track lights. Any suggestions or ideas on where to go for help would be great! Thank you, Susan

Hello Susan!
I read your email with interest and a smile.... just last week, I completed a consultation with a new client for exactly the same solutions! The darkness and this 'Northwest Gray' sky have more effects than many people realize. Let me offer you a few general solutions to try:

1. Take a look at the color of the walls in your shop.
If they are white or a cool color (blue, green, etc) then they are working against the effect you want to have. Using warm, glowing colors such as ambers, golds, caramels, light browns, earthy oranges, etc. will serve to expand the light within your spaces. Even if you just paint the wall across from the windows one of these colors, you'll see a big difference in the way it feels.

The soft green walls in the photo at the top of this post work to bounce light in a large space - but the green is a yellow-based hue that stays warm (as opposed to a 'hospital green' with cold blue undertones).

Five more things YOU can do to improve your store lighting - after the jump!


2. Check your track lights and any other light fixtures you have in the store.
Are all of the bulbs working? Are the track modules aimed in the most efficient direction? It's common for most light in a store or restaurant to be aimed downward onto tables, counters, displays. This is necessary - but you also have to bounce light around so it hits vertical surfaces and is visible from the street outside. This means aiming a few track modules onto those warmly painted walls so that they glow even more. See photo above for an example of 'washing' the walls with light.

3. Introduce floor and table lamps into your space - several set into your displays throughout the store will serve to cast warm ambient light and draw the eye to them. Best to place these sparingly, and also use incandescent bulbs in them. (I know, it's not the most energy efficient way to do it, but CFL bulbs have a cold light.) You need warmth to draw people in, and using pools of light throughout the space is the best way to do it.

4. Those overhead florescent fixtures you have are the bane of all retailers: you need light, but that blue light just flattens out all of the detail in your products. Counteract it with as much natural light as you can - yes, even our Northwest gray gloom is better than florescent light! Place mirrors on walls and fixtures across from the windows, to bounce the light around the space.

5. Appropriate for the holidays (and actually any time of year in retail) try adding some twinkling white lights on tall tree branches or a tall garden trellis inside the store. Place them in the back half of your store, across from the windows, and make sure they are on well before dusk. This bit of light and movement will work to attract attention - and it needn't be in the window to work.

6. Although it is true that 'Windows are the eyes to your store', you can't expect them to do all the work! Window displays often get overloaded in an attempt to make them stop traffic. When building window displays, have the goal of providing a large visual statement that clearly represents your store - your brand image, your product offerings, and something interesting or whimsical like a seasonal theme.
This photo of the French Vanilla boutique in Victoria, BC, Canada illustrates how a 'view-through' window display works.

Don't try to load every inch of the space with product, though. Use no more of 1/2 of your window space for this - build one large display in the window's center, or two smaller displays on either side - leaving some space open so that customers who walk or drive by can see PAST the displays into your store. This is where the lighting discussed above becomes paramount in importance: The space beyond the windows needs to be well lit to be seen, and to work to pull people in your doors.

Specific advice for your products, Susan:
Your product is primarily two-dimensional and small, so you need to think a bit out of the box in order to make it work in large window displays: Try making blown-up, inexpensive color copies of interesting seasonal cards, (to an 8X11 size) and hang them from large tree branches or ribbons in the window. The movement factor there is good for attracting attention.

Or, find a roll of wallpaper that coordinates with a new stationery line, and use it as a backdrop for a desk whose drawers are pulled out and loaded up with items from the line - and use a color copy of the item to front the box of cards, papers, etc. again to help keep fading to a minimum. A small lamp on the desktop will serve to attract attention, too.

These are general tips that I hope will provide a starting point for improving the visual impact of your store during the darker winter season! For more specific advice and solutions, I am happy to provide my consultation services in person in your store, or via email and digital photos. Email me at Debi.WardKennedy (at) Gmail (dot) com for more info on my services and rates.


  1. These are great tips even for in our homes here in the Northwest. That rainforest feeling we get can be rather dreary. I know the lighting in my home is terrible. I need to work on that for sure.

  2. Thank you for the excellent lighting tips. These tips are practical and very easily applied.