Retailers Find Daylighting Reveals Product’s True Colors for More Sales
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By Jeff Elliott
Good lighting has always been the retailer’s friend and scientific research shows that natural light—sunlight—may be their very best friend. A seminal study, Daylighting and Productivity from 1999, by the environmental consulting firm, the Heschong Mahone Group, found that retail spaces lit with daylight had increased sales by more than 40% over similar spaces selling comparable products.
Wal-Mart further confirmed this approach when it built its first energy-efficient model store in Kansas in 1993. The store was constructed with skylights on one half of the store. Tom Scay, the company’s vice president for real estate at the time, told the Wall Street Journal in 1995 that the products illuminated by the skylights sold much better than those under fluorescent lights. To rule out other factors that might explain the higher sales volume, Wal-Mart swapped the products and when they were lit by the skylights, their sales numbers went up significantly and the previously well-selling products’ numbers dropped.
Natural lighting or “daylighting” with skylights is also a win-win generationally. Retailers can stand out in a crowd targeting millennial shoppers with their sensitivity to energy usage and climate change. Older customers are accommodated as well. Studies by the Illuminating Engineering Society have shown that after 55 people can need 2.3 times more light and higher quality light than 25-year-olds. The high cost of artificially providing the full spectrum light needed by older folks is eliminated by intelligently placed skylights.
The cherry on top for retailers using daylighting, confirmed by a study done at the Eneref Institute, is increased foot traffic. Customers interviewed for the study said that the stores felt more inviting. And having the checkout counters lit with daylight made those customers feel more at ease. Salespeople felt more approachable under skylights and overall, the shopping experience was more pleasant. Customers are more likely to spend more time in sunlit retail spaces.
Even retail staff working in sunlit environments are happier, more productive and are absent less often than those working for long hours under artificial lights.
Artificial light is also a problem for perceiving color accurately—something that is crucial for selling many products. In clothing stores, not only are the clothing colors more attractive under natural lighting, but so are the customers when they see themselves in mirrors. Paint, home goods, furniture and flooring retailers similarly benefit from warm, natural lighting that enables the true colors to shine through.
For these types of businesses especially, daylighting is crucial because it provides the best color perception available. Sales go up because the product looks better and is seen more accurately. Customers’ color perceptions are directly affected by the full light spectrum. In fact, the only way to see “true” color is in full-spectrum light.
That is why when custom furniture producer and retailer, Marlin Gingerich was planning his new showroom space, he decided that letting the sun shine in was just good business.
“LEDs and fluorescent lighting really distort colors and it is hard to discern exactly what the true colors of the furniture pieces are,” he says.
To remedy this, Gingerich installed daylighting skylights when he built Midwest Woodworks’ new Kalona, IA’s 7,000 square showroom in 2009. These special sun gathering skylights harvest and amplify sunlight to illuminate the space below. The technique is called daylighting and its effect is dramatic, flooding a space with bright light without any harshness or glare.
For Gingerich, natural light is important because it highlights the grains and colors in his furniture well.
“Our store was small, the lighting wasn’t great, and we determined we could probably do a lot more in sales [by adding natural lighting],” he says, “People bring in wood samples and ask us to match a specific color. In our previous store, we always went out into the direct sunlight which was not convenient especially in the winter. I discouraged doing any matching in the store just because the colors weren’t accurate. With our new skylights, we can do accurate color matching pretty much anywhere in the showroom.”
Gingerich purchased the daylighting system from DayStar Systems (Campbell Hill, IL) after seeing their skylights in local businesses. “There were other natural lighting systems, but DayStar had the best overall design and appearance,” Gingerich says.
DayStar engineers have developed high-performance skylight systems that capture the sun’s natural light and collect, amplify, and diffuse a broad, even pattern of indoor illumination.
This is accomplished using a four-part system. First, sunlight is gathered and diffused through an ultra-clear outer dome and inner collimation lens. The dome is supported by insulated roof curbs of galvalume steel or aluminum continuously welded for watertight seams. Then a light shaft made of insulated panels with highly reflective interior surfaces amplify light as it is captured. And finally, an attractive ceiling lens, engineered to diffuse highly concentrated light into a broad lighting pattern, is installed on the interior ceiling.
Each component can be customized for the building’s specifications. Gingerich worked with DayStar when he was designing his new showroom to determine how many skylights he needed and their optimal placement.
“We wanted to display our bedroom furniture in individual rooms. So, we had seven bedrooms along one side of the showroom and each had its own DayStar skylight. No one ever complained that there was too much light in there.”
Aaron Petersheim of Shade Mtn Countertops, in McAlisterville, PA. also found that natural sunlight is his best salesman.
“Natural light is a full-spectrum daylight, where any artificial lighting would also need to be the full spectrum, or it would be a handicap,” Petersheim explains. “Artificial light has limited wavelengths. Lamps can be too yellow or too blue. You really need the correct lighting for the countertops, and natural daylight is perfect for it.”
Petersheim has installed over 40 daylighting skylights on his countertop showroom and fabrication production roofs. The DayStar skylights are easy to install and come with detailed instructions and all the materials required. Petersheim hired a local DayStar dealer to install the skylights after an initial trial of seven in a separate fabrication shop in 2014. “The installation process took about a week,” he says. “They were installed well and are watertight.”
Harnessing renewable and free natural light not only cuts the cost of generating artificial lighting but reduces collateral expenses as well. Some artificial light creates greater heat loads, which must be offset by a building’s cooling system.
Direct sunlight from standard windows can be an issue too. One thing that Gingerich noticed immediately in the new showroom was the light was even and diffused and illuminated the entire showroom. “In the old showroom,” he says “On a nice sunny day, there was, what I would call a pool of light inside every window. And the light did not extend very far into the showroom.”
With a good thermal designed daylighting system, energy costs can be reduced.
Gingerich found that the skylights provided an additional benefit even before they were installed. When asking the bank for the loan he needed to construct the new showroom, he explained that he expected to increase sales by installing the DayStar Skylights.
“I told the loan officer that based on what we were hearing from our clients if we had more natural lighting that our business would increase,” says Gingerich. “Our sales ended up higher than I initially projected. So, if you are retailer considering bringing in more natural lighting, your sales have nowhere to go but up.”
About the Author
Jeff Elliott is a Torrance, Calif.-based technical writer. He has researched and written about industrial technologies and issues for the past 20 years.