Effects of Lighting on Retail Buying Behavior

We know that strategic lighting has the potential to increase overall sales and impact the perception of a brand. New studies also show new ways that lighting can effect customers. A recent study by Zumtobel looks at our subconscious (or limbic) emotional responses to light.  A 2010 Dutch study challenges the idea that bright light is better. And a South African study looks at the overall impact of store atmosphere (light, sound, smell, etc.), finding that bad lighting can have a more negative effect than expected.

Read complete studies and summaries below:


Limbic® Lighting – Zumtobel

This study, performed by Zumtobel, explores the more subconscious elements of the humans experience with light in the retail environment. Emotional responses can certainly vary from individual to individual, but the study provides a general outline for three different lighting personality types that can be applied to target audience’s preferences.  Light, they found, can affect mood both positively and negatively, so it is important to match the target customer to the lighting strategy so that there is an appropriate positive emotional attachment to the brand. Emotional types of persons identified fell into one of three categories:  Balance, Stimulance, or Dominance. Their analysis concluded that each of these groups had a strong preference for a specific kind of lighting scheme.

Balance: (persons looking for harmony, and relaxation)
This rather quiet, harmony-focused family type showed particularly positive responses to moderate accent lighting. The lighting solution was dominated by a mixture of medium flood beam angles (20–30°) at the POS and directly on the goods displayed. …. The proportion of diffuse light by downlights is very low. The horizontal general lighting level is 800 lx on average; the color temperature is 3000 K for the most part.

Stimulance: unconventional persons (Hedonists, Adventurers)
Specifically, it was found that these two Limbic® Types show extremely positive responses to lighting scenarios with marked contrasts, generated through accent lighting and a combination of various different spots. …The amount of vertical light and the amount of light at the POS, on the other hand, are the highest among the three groups, thus providing for the required stimulation.

Dominance: critical persons (Performers, Disciplinarians)
These target groups showed particularly positive responses to lighting solutions featuring high uniformity as well as a combination of wideflood accent lighting with beam angles of > 35° at the POS and directly on the goods displayed. … The proportion of diffuse ambient lighting is the highest among the three groups.


Understanding the temperament of your target audience can help you plan an optimized strategy for retail performance. Zumtobel outlines some tangible, specific recommendations for appealing to each demographic.

“…The unique findings of the present study allow for this next step to be taken towards improved and more targeted stimulation of different target groups. Moreover, it offers the opportunity to develop optimized lighting scenarios, luminaires and lighting technology with a view to a perfect brand and target group fit.”

Download the Zumtobel Limbic® Lighting study >>

Lighting Atmosphere and Perception – Dutch Study

In this Dutch study, from June 2010, lighting is proven to have an impact on retail atmosphere. One notable find was the unintended consequence of bright light.

According to the study created a sense of tension in retail space.  This is contrary to some previous studies, most of which agree that brighter light reduces stress. The study concedes that its findings regarding brightness may have been influenced by the exclusively Dutch focus group, and cultural biases may have been at least partially responsible for the results. Lighting characteristics were rated on a scale that included; coziness, liveliness, tenseness and detachment.  Glare, brightness, and contrast were considered. In summary, the characteristics of each were found to be:

  • Glare and Sparkle contributes to more liveliness, less detachment.
  • Brightness creates more tension, removes sense of intimacy, and adds detachment
  • Contrast reduces tenseness

Lighting contributes significantly to the ambiance of a retail environment. However, when normalizing for multiple influences, bright lighting’s potential to negatively impact sales is also significant. “…considering the wide variety of shop interiors, clothing collections, music played, etc., the findings should nonetheless be considered encouraging for lighting designers and researchers. Even with the enormous set of visual environmental cues present in retail environments, lighting does play a significant role in creating an ambiance.”

This study includes some complex diagramming, and hard data that might be of interest to those who enjoy more detail. Our brief is not intended to fully represent the entirety of the study, just to highlight some relevant findings.

Download Lighting Atmosphere and Perception >>

Influence of Atmospherics on Buying Behavior – University of South Africa

This study breaks down the sensory experiences of retail customers at an apparel store into several categories; sight, sound, touch, and scent. Researchers pushed extremes in each of these categories to determine the kinds of reactions customers experience in a retail store that smells, has loud music, or super dark or bright light. As you might expect, extremes in all of these categories shortened visit times and reduced sales. For the purposes of our research, we have zeroed in on the sight element of the study.


This study fond that lighting can have both a positive and negative impact on customer buying behavior. Store lighting that feels “too dark “or does not light products sufficiently, discourages patronage. Stores that provided good lighting experiences were rewarded with longer visits and more purchases made.  “…From the focus group interviews and naive sketches, it was clear that the participants did not want to shop in dark stores, meaning that the lighting should be bright and clear. They further indicated that lighting was a sign of cleanliness and quality and that proper lighting can be used to guide consumer’s in-store, enabling them to see all the merchandise, which may lead to unplanned purchases…” Of particular interest were some of the quotes collected from subjects regarding the lighting in the test retail store.

In Their Words : Quotes from Study Subjects

“… darkness implies they are hiding something. There is negativity to too much darkness that says, okay why? A, it’s dirty, you know, they are hiding their quality, they are not proud to stand up and say something, I am just saying from a psychological perspective that is what darkness would imply”

“… the lighting also gives me a feeling of order, here are our products”

“…If the colours and lighting is unpleasant, it may cause me to decide to leave the store and go shop somewhere else, if the lights are too bright, flickering or not bright enough”

Download the Influence of Atmospherics on Buying Behavior study here >>

Hire a Lighting Company That Does the Research for You

Here’s a tip for anyone who’d rather know more about their core business than being a lighting expert. Choose a lighting company that does the research for you. When you choose LumaStream, you’re getting more than just efficient, low-voltage LED lighting. You get an engineered lighting design. You get the benefit of our experience, and the technical support to get the job done without the stress.

Remember, if you’re not compelled to become a lighting expert yourself, LumaStream can help you develop a lighting strategy that considers not only the impact of LED on retail sales, but also improves efficiency, reliability, and controllability of your LED lighting system.

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