“Lighting partners should be made part of the design journey…”
By N Jayalakshmi | October 28, 2021
Retail4Growth presents ‘Spotlight’, a series in association with retail lighting solutions company Gardler, in which architects and store designers share their views on the role that lighting plays in the whole in-store experience. In this interaction, Shyam Sunder K, Founder, Principal Architect & MD - 4Dimensions Retail Design, shares his insights on how and why lighting is an integral part of the store experience.
Could you first elaborate on the role of lighting in the whole in-store experience?
Lighting is an important element, which adds a dramatic angle to the whole in-store experience and merchandise presentation. It determines how the products can be perceived in the eyes of the customer. Store experience is essentially sensorial and lighting is the most important sensorial element - visual - and hence the most impactful. There have been enough scientific studies in the last few years on how lighting can play a make-or-break role in the purchase decision process.
Any project you can recall from your experience, where lighting played a key role?
We have done many projects where a lot of impetus was given to lighting; these are all award winning projects, like the Somany Tiles Experience Centre, the Logic Displays Experience centre, or traditional jewellery stores like Neelkant or Tulips Soft Furnishing centre. These are classic examples of stores where lighting played a crucial role in creating the right ambience. And the fact is that all these stores are doing extremely well now. The clients in all these cases were very aware regarding the importance of lighting.
In your observation, what is the general approach to lighting among retail brands ?
Today clients are much more aware on the role of lighting compared to earlier times. We don’t have to convince them to the extent that we had to earlier regarding the need to invest in good quality lighting. But though many of them are aware on the need for lighting, many of them are still not that aware on the quality of lighting needed. So when it comes to specifics like lux levels, colour temperature , filters etc., there is still not much clarity and we often have to explain the importance of these aspects. Many of them still want a very bright store, but they don’t generally look at how to thematically differentiate between regular product lighting and hot spot lighting, or look at creating differentiated experience spots within the store, like it happens in international stores, for example. So even though the overall quality of light might be okay, there is no dramatic differentiation in the customer experience offered. Even in window displays, the focus is on bright but flat lighting, and not on creating enough drama through lighting.
Would you say there is a difference between traditional/regional retailers and corporate retailers when it comes to the approach to lighting?
Even among corporate brands, I feel it’s mostly the international ones who realize the importance of store lighting. In their case, the whole store design includes lighting design which is pre-decided by the mother brand, which is not diluted for the sake of the Indian market. They carry the overall design across the chain. But a majority of Indian brands don’t look at it that way. Many of them are focused only on the cost aspect and don’t look at giving the right experience to the customers. And even when they do focus on the experiential aspects, including lighting, it is limited to the first 1-2 concept stores, and not beyond that. Also, when it comes to tier 2-3 markets, they tend to cut down on the investments, even though they don’t cut down on the selling price.
So would you say that lack of awareness is among the top challenges for you when it comes to retail lighting?
I would say that the biggest challenge is budget, and the client acceptance on how lighting can play a dramatic role, which obviously goes with the budget. So budget is the obvious deciding factor for most clients and unfortunately we cannot offer everything within a limited budget.
Ideally in your opinion, what should be the share of lighting as a percentage of the overall store budget ?
It should be at least 12%-15% of the overall budget, so as to offer a reasonable amount of in-store experience, especially for a middle to premium category. For the premium segment, it can go up to a minimum 20%-25%. Ideally, anywhere between 15% and 20 % should be the right allotment, so as to do full justice to the merchandise and give a good in-store experience.
When it comes to selecting the lighting vendors/partners for a project, how do you evaluate? Any specific parameters?
It usually varies from project to project and depends on the brand positioning and budget. We start by putting down the parameters and the kind of lighting needed and based on that and the budget, we shortlist and recommend lighting brands to the client. Having completed 21 years in this industry , we have a good understanding of lighting vendors who can deliver. Fact is, it’s not just about their lights, but also about the light fixtures that they have and the kind of effect and experience that can be created using those fixtures. This is why we make sure the lighting vendors are part of the design journey, and involve them in the whole design process. We take them through the lighting effect we want and ask them for suggestions. Our team works very closely with them to ensure that there are no black spots within the store.
Another important criteria for us is the manufacturing aspect. We avoid Chinese products and give first preference to anyone who manufactures in India, rather than to someone who imports from China or other countries. As Indians we have to support in developing our own eco-system. Today there are are enough and more companies in India who are ready to deliver and supply.
Any particular lighting company you work with on a regular basis?
We majorly work with Gardler and Plus Lighting because of their quality of light fixtures and the technology they use.
Any final thought you’d like to share when it comes to store lighting?
The point to note is that the returns on investments happen when you create the right ambience and experience, and that’s where investing in the right kind of lighting comes in. It will fetch result in the long term, even if it takes time. Also, when it comes to lighting, it’s important to look for solution providers rather than vendors, and to look at how you can partner with them in the design process, like I said before. Then there is also the question of responsible use of lighting, so as to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint. So investments on lighting should take all these into account.
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