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Will Your Customers Shop After Dark?

Furniture World Magazine


New research sheds light on how less expensive lighting can actually a better choice for night lighting.

As store planners, our obligation to you doesn't stop inside the store. We are concerned with how customers perceive your business from the outside as well. Some recent information has surfaced that indicates you may have a problem you can do something about.

SHOPPERS ARE AFRAID:  Wall Street Journal noted that a recent study conducted by America's Research Group of Charleston, S.C., reported some disturbing facts that could affect your bottom line. In spite of declining national crime rates, more than half of 1,001 consumers polled were afraid to shop at night. More than 25% said they were shopping closer to home because of safety reasons.


Britt Beemer, Chairman of America's Research Group said "A lot of stores that used to do lots of business after dark are not doing that business any more. And people are shopping at fewer stores and for fewer hours." More than half of those polled said that walking through large parking lots scared them more than anything else about shopping at night.

BRIGHT SPOT ON THE HORIZON: Take into consideration some recent discoveries about how we humans actually see at night, and there may be hope for better night time security in our parking lots... and savings on our electric bills too!

Dr. Mark Rea, director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensslaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York authored an article that appeared in the IAEEL Newsletter, a technical lighting industry publication that reveals some information about the complex world of Nighttime Spectral Sensitivity.

So that I don't leave you in the dark (pardon the pun), I'll paraphrase, keeping this in layman's terms as much as possible. But to understand the news, we must know how the human eye "sees". I know it's asking a lot, but force yourself to read the next two short paragraphs for a crash course in vision.

Images are focused onto the back of our eye in varying degrees of light. We've always known that this back of the eye surface was covered with things called rods and cones and they were the pick up units that send the images to our brain. There is a portion of our Retina called the fovea that contains only cone photoreceptors. This is the area of our eye that is responsible for high-acuity vision. Based on this knowledge, experiments were done in the 1920's that created the present lumen (photopic) scale we use to measure human sensitivity to light.

The real news is that our eye sensitivity and ability to have peripheral vision in low light is quite different from brighter, daylight sources. Under very low light conditions, when our eye is using only the rods for vision, certain types of light seem to allow better vision than others, possibly making the scale developed in the 1920 inaccurate.

This newly discovered "scotopic" night vision is what may revolutionize outdoor safety lighting in the near future.

No doubt you've flown over cities at night and noticed the golden glow of all the High Pressure Sodium (HPS) street lighting. Chances are, your parking lot is even equipped with these tremendously bright lamps. Hybrids of the still sometimes used Low Pressure Sodium lamp, up until now were touted for the high level of light they generate at a very low cost per watt. One of the negatives to HPS has always been the fact that the bright orange environment it creates at night obscures our ability to determine colors. Now we're starting to learn that maybe we don't need all this orange brightness after all.

As an experiment, a large metropolitan mall replaced half of their HPS lamps with slightly lower wattage Metal Halide (MH) lamps, a crisp, bright white light source you have no doubt seen in some of the newer outdoor lighting applications and have experienced when shopping inside warehouse clubs. The results of the tests were amazing. A starling majority of shoppers chose to park their cars on the side of the lot with the lower wattage white light source. When quizzed why, they admitted without hesitation they could see better and felt safer.

Let's get technical again for a moment. The chart above taken from Dr. Rea's article dramatically shows the way our eye sees different light sources both during the day (Photopic) and at night (Scotopic). The numbers are expressed in lumens per watt (lm/W), or to over simplify the term, the amount of light our eye detects per watt of electricity burned. The results are amazing:

As you can see from the chart, the numbers that appear in parenthesis are comparisons to the way our eye sees a typical incandescent light source. The best news is these studies show that full spectrum fluorescent lamps which have the lowest operating cost also gave the most dramatic results. In fact, our eyes perceive this source to be double in brightness at night as compared with our daytime perception.

With fear levels about night shopping on the rise, feeling safer is exactly what you want for your customers. So how can you take advantage of the new information?

It goes without saying, if your parking lot is not lighted at night, seriously consider adding lights. However, don't let anyone talk you into HPS or LPS lamps. Stick with a white light source.

If you are presently using HPS lamps in your fixtures, investigate a nifty special lamp that GE has made available. The "ChromaFit" Multi-Vapor Metal Halide lamp comes in two different wattages and has been specially designed to fit your existing HPS fixtures without changing the socket or ballast!. If you're still using Mercury Vapor lamps, they also manufacturer lamps to convert those fixtures to MH as well.

Consider fluorescent light as a viable alternative. The most efficient of all outdoor lighting types; MagnaRay International out of Florida is offering fixtures with hybrid Mylar reflectors. These special units allow you to use the lower wattage "biax" type lamps and give amazing results with extremely low power consumption.

For now, don't consider dropping the light level in parking areas if you switch to a white light source, wait for the scientists to develop the "scotopic" light numbers and come out with the recommended level you should use. Check local codes for recommendations in your community. For the present keep a minimum of 5 foot-candles of light in your parking area. Make certain light levels at night outside your store are high enough to avoid litigation in the event of an incident.

Some valuable resources that to help you make the transition:

Ruud Lighting, Inc. - 9201 Washington Ave., Racine, WI 53406 (800) 236-7000 * Outstanding resource for Metal Halide parking lot fixtures.

MagnaRay International, PO Box 990, Bradenton, FL 34206 (941) 755-2111 * Outstanding resource for high output, extremely low wattage Fluorescent parking lot fixtures.

GE Lighting Products - GE Supply * Source For MH lamps that fit directly into your existing HP fixtures

  • 250 Watt Lamp - GE#12762 (rated life 10,000 hours) Aprox Cost $47
  • 400 Watt Lamp - GE#12770 (rated life 20,000 hours) Aprox Cost $48

We have established a National Account for home furnishings retailers at discounted pricing on GE lighting products. GE Supply (800) 243-4040 * Ask for the Kief-Walls Group National Account Number 905705

Lou Kief is a partner with Bill Walls in the retail consulting and store planning firm, The Kief-Walls Group. Questions on store planning and design can directed to FURNITURE WORLD at editor@furninfo.com.