The bricks and mortar of retail has taken a battering in recent times, but innovative lighting controls can help to reimagine this industry, explains Phil McBrown, area sales manager at CP Electronics.

Recent years have seen the traditional retail industry struggle to keep up with the digital world. High street sales slumped at their fastest pace since 2008 this past August, with Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and House of Fraser all examples of large retailers feeling the pinch. The rise of eCommerce has forced many retailers into weighing up whether they put the investment into how their stores look, or into their online presence.

While online shopping undoubtedly offers convenience, the ability to touch and feel, smell, taste and listen to the products that are being bought is something that some retailers are capitalising on.

Primark is one clear example of a retailer that still has hope for the high street. In April 2019, the fashion retailer launched its biggest store in the world in Birmingham, packed with a Disney-themed café, a barbers shop and beauty studio. By successfully reinventing its presence on the high street, the brand has tapped into the ‘experience economy’ trend. That is, they have made their store a go-to destination that offers a unique experience, and not just a place where cash is traded for clothes.

For the bricks and mortar economy, it’s a case of being truly innovative to attract customers back time and time again. One ingredient to making this happen is lighting and lighting controls. Clever controls can bring not just creativity to store designs, but also comfort, cost-effectiveness, and commerciality.

Lighting – the defining factor

It’s long been known that lighting is a vital asset to retail to either draw attention to passers-by, or create an ambient, welcoming environment. Some retailers use the commodity to full effect, making it a defining factor in their outlets.

Hollister’s stores, for example, are famed for their super low-light levels, while Apple has just patented a new smart ceiling design to use in next-gen Apple stores. The tech giants believe that uniform lighting offers an ideal customer experience and offers flexible product display options for wide-open spaces, which is an Apple store hallmark.

This level of lighting design may sound dauntingly expensive and sophisticated; however, an impressive lighting display can be easily achieved through clever yet simple solutions. For instance, a fully addressable system that runs off the DALI protocol can allow for full control of individual luminaires, their lux levels and output.

This is achieved by each fitting having its own unique ‘address’, enabling it to be programmed from either a lighting system attached to a head-end PC or tablet.

Luminaires can then be grouped together to form a range of ‘architectural lighting’ scenes, and controlled from scene plates mounted on walls, tablets, or the head-end PC. They can also be dimmed automatically with timers or dimmed manually based on need, and the output can be anything from 1% - 100%. What’s more, with solutions like CP Electronics’ RAPID system, LED lights can be programmed to provide tunable lighting. For a more show-stopping effect, they can even change colours at various intervals.

When designing lighting systems in retail environments, it is also important to decide whether it will run off a DALI fully addressable system, or a DALI broadcast system. In simple terms, the former allows for each luminaire to be controlled individually, while the latter allows luminaires to be controlled in pre-defined groups and requires a hard-wired relay module to send the commands to the light fittings.

As the retail industry is a fast-moving environment, with concession stores and different occupiers coming and going, it’s important to have a flexible solution that can adapt accordingly. In this respect, fully addressable systems are at the pinnacle of flexibility. Once this type of system is installed, if any wholesale changes are needed to the pre-set scenes, then all that is required is a commissioning engineer to come out to help re-programme the lighting controls.

Flexible lighting controls also help with one of the latest retail phenomena, pop-up shops. These, as their name suggests, are outlets which retailers only occupy for a short amount of time before moving out again. A lighting control system that can be easily customised without the need to re-do the electrical wiring work is an added-value benefit that helps attract prospective retailers.

Lighting – not just for looks

Going beyond individual shops, lighting controls are just as important for large-scale retailing, such as shopping centres and retail parks. It’s only natural that consumers want a comfortable retail experience, where they can feel at peace and ease, and lighting is a huge contributor to this.

For instance, bright street lighting can help light the way and discourage any would-be criminals in darker and remote areas. Applications where this would be useful include corridors, office spaces in retail areas, toilets, storerooms, and car parks. Of course, to help save money, lighting can be set to come on only when presence is detected.

Again, the lighting controls and detectors can be part of a fully addressable system. Alternatively, they can be installed as standalone detectors, set to dim to a desired output when presence hasn’t been detected for a pre-determined amount of time.

Detection but not as you know it

Lighting control solutions aren’t just useful for the aesthetic appearance of shops and stores and detecting presence. They can also play a huge role in helping streamline operations and processes for facilities managers (FMs) and building owners.

This is especially the case in larger shopping centres, where hundreds, if not thousands, of luminaires and detectors could be deployed on the site. It can be a nigh-on impossible task to stay on top of all the fittings for even large FM teams.

Adding to this conundrum is emergency lighting. Emergency lighting needs to be tested at set intervals to comply with regulations. Typically, this is done by facilities managers assessing each emergency light fitting and manually starting the test, which involves draining the back-up battery in the fittings and then re-powering them up. The process, as you can imagine, is a labour intensive one.

However, with fully addressable lighting control solutions, this process can be made much more efficient. The tests can be timed to happen automatically, directly from the head-end PC. This means that FMs don’t need to walk around to each emergency light, and the test can be done when the shopping centre or store is closed to minimise disruption. Not only this, but with a system like CP Electronics’ RAPID solution, if there are any faults with the luminaire or the battery then a log file is created and stored on the system, enabling easy diagnosis.

The same principle applies to luminaires. Using the DALI protocol, the drivers and ballasts in the luminaire fittings can send signals back to the system and inform users about the status of the luminaire and whether it is in a failed state or not. Through the use of lighting controls, FMs can gain back valuable time in ongoing maintenance of their buildings.

Bringing retail into the ‘experience economy’

Consumers are expecting more and more from their shopping experiences. On top of being able to try the products and services in real-life, they want the environment to offer a comfortable and safe experience. People are even factoring in whether the places that they go to are ‘Instagrammable’, and this in turn is translating into ratings on the likes of Google and TripAdvisor.

Not just this, but with sustainability a now-daily talking point, they are more aware than ever of places that demonstrate good practice with being eco-friendly.

Lighting controls are a big part of making all the above possible and ensures that shops and centres don’t just become a place to buy things. They turn them into a destination in their own right – spaces that are efficient, sustainable, futureproof, and most importantly, show-stopping.