How LEDs Are Changing the Retail World

The technology is influencing purchasing decisions

21 July 2016

Thanks to online shopping, fewer consumers are visiting actual stores to make purchases. To compete, brick-and-mortar retail establishments are increasingly offering fun, unique experiences to encourage brand loyalty and in-person repeat visits. Using LEDs for store lighting has become one of the most effective ways of influencing the buyer’s overall impression and purchasing decisions.

LEDs, with their long life, lower energy requirements, ease of adjustment from cooler to warmer white light, dimming and control capabilities, and wide range of sizes and configurations, have a tremendous advantage over traditional lights. But beyond that, through the integration of communications technologies, LEDS can permit real-time interaction with shoppers through a smart device. The technology can provide information about sales, the location of departments, and items on display.


Let’s begin at the store’s windows and entrance, where the decision to stop in or move on is often made. The ability to adjust from warmer to cooler shades of white, referred to as color tuning—along with precise light distribution—allows the retailer to create an inviting space that appeals to the shopper’s sense of comfort, safety, and familiarity. Once inside, LEDs’ plethora of physical configurations, including recessed lighting, track lighting, and wall lighting, allow the presentation of a variety of inviting environments in different parts of the store. By illuminating the merchandise, accent lighting—combined with lower levels of surrounding light—can encourage shoppers to linger at certain shelves and racks. The positioning of lights above the aisle ends helps drive customers through the store and discourages bottlenecks.

Whether it’s a red tomato, a bright blue sweater, or a sparkling piece of jewelry, LEDs’ color-tuning capability provides retailers with flexibility in optimizing the appearance of their offerings. A cooler white light approximating daylight could enhance the sparkle factor of cut gemstones, for example, while a warmer white light could make the reds, oranges, and yellows of a floral display really pop. For food in particular, LEDs can help increase shelf life and enhance appearance. Exposure to ultraviolet and infrared radiation can result in degradation of food’s appearance and nutritional value; LEDs used for general illumination contain no ultraviolet or infrared in their output.


An important part of shopping for clothes is the dressing room, where many apparel-buying decisions are made. How well the room is lit can impact how the clothing looks. Because of LEDs’ real-time color tuning and dimming capabilities, they are improving the experience of trying on clothes.

Philips currently offers an LED product that allows buyers to evaluate their garment selection according to the season or occasion. By altering the LEDs through a control panel in the fitting room, the consumer can get an idea of how a dress would look on a sunny day and in a dimly lit restaurant.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, LEDs may be a key element in the way stores communicate with their visitors. Because LEDs are electronic, it’s easy to incorporate not only lighting controls but also communication capabilities using light as the medium. With such a “Li-Fi” setup, data would be transmitted to enabled receivers, like smartphones, using visible light pulsed at high frequencies that are undetectable to the human eye at much faster transfer rates than traditional Wi-Fi. In the retail environment, a Li-Fi system would be able to push to shoppers’ phones information about sales, coupons, the store’s layout, and other items of interest based on the person’s location in the store as detected via GPS or store cameras.

IEEE Senior Member Yoelit H. Hiebert, is a Professional Engineer who has worked in the LED lighting field for nearly 10 years, in both manufacturing and energy management. She is a senior engineer at Leidos, where she serves as a solid-state lighting expert. Hiebert is also the chair of the IEEE St. Louis Section.

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