Promote the Product, Protect the Staff: Retail Workers and Lighting

When people talk about lighting in retail, the main focus is on how to attract customers and get them spending.  However, one aspect that is often overlooked is how the lighting affects the shopping assistants who are often in the shop for long hours, several days a week.

In our 'How the Right Retail Lighting Can Boost Your Sales' article, we talked about how cheerful lighting can make for cheerful staff, which is important in creating a welcoming atmosphere for customers, and for getting good quality work from staff.   We also touched on how daylight is important for maintaining a happy workforce, which calls into question shops like Hollister, who's permanently dark shopping experiences can have an adverse affect on the staff as it can reduce energy and motivation.

But, some research has suggested that lighting that is too harsh, or consistently bright throughout the day can also have adverse psychological and physiological affects on staff.  Here we look at these studies findings and offer potential solutions that will make sure products are still highlighted but staff well being and general health is maintained, making the lighting beneficial for everyone.

LED or HID: does bulb type make a difference?:

In a study in 2014, Denk, Jimenez and Schulz looked into whether there was any difference between LED lighting and High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights, as it was thought that perhaps the difference in lights was causing more adverse affects.  They tested using LEDs and HID's with both warm and neutral light settings.  It was found that there was no difference between the two types of technology in regards to staff's self-reported well-being and mental state or monitored concentration, meaning business's shouldn't be worried about the type of lights in regard to their staff.

Dim to Dazzling: does Colour Temperature make a difference?:

The same study also tested to see if there was a difference between warm-white light (3000K) and neutral-white light (4200K).  Warm light gives a yellow-red light which is seen as relaxing or cosy, whereas neutral light is more blue which is seen as more cool and objective.  Both can be used to great effect in retail, either highlighting the products or making the customer feel relaxed.  For well-being and mental state, warm lighting was found to be significantly better, but for concentration, it was found that the neutral lighting was better.  This perhaps suggests that there needs to be a variety of lighting to balance these different needs and to get the maximum from the staff.

Moderate physiological effects:

Deepika and Neerja in 2015 studied the physiological effects of consistent bright lights on staff members.  For several categories such as eyes, skin, hair, sleep and general health, participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they ran into problems in these areas.  The researchers concluded that the assistants experienced moderate physiological effects, some of which was directly related to the lighting such as eye strain, but some which could be related to other factors and so lighting alone cannot be at fault.  More research is needed to understand what about the lights specifically is causing these problems and then schemes can be implemented to reduce these effects.

Daylight and psychological effects:

Daylight is very important to human functioning generally as it helps us regulate our circadian rhythms, or body clock.  This controls many things but most importantly for light research, cortisol which is a stress hormone designed to help us wake up, and melatonin which helps us go to sleep.  Martau, along with a team of researchers, looked into the effect retail lighting had on these hormones and other, psychological factors such depression, in retail workers in three settings.

A group with access to both daylight and who worked in the daytime showed greater satisfaction with light levels, although they had some issues regarding drowsiness during the day, and difficulty seeing tasks.  A second group who worked inside a shopping centre and so did not have access to daylight, but still worked in the daytime, reported more negative psychological effects such as anxiety and stress.  However the third group who worked without daylight and in the evenings reported more physiological effects such as changes in melatonin levels which caused disrupted sleep patterns.

This shows a variety of different factors and situations have to considered when fitting lighting.  Also, the variety of effects on staff need to be considered as although one problem may be solved by a new light feature, another problem may be created in its wake.

Reliable research?

Although this research is compelling evidence that lighting has a significant effect on the staff working in retail, there are some issues which might affect the results.

The biggest one is that other factors could also have an influence on the staff members such as their home life.  However, this doesn't mean that lighting should just be discounted as it is contributing to some of these issues and so should be changed if necessary to be comfortable for employees.


  • Talk to staff about the light levels- The first thing to do is to ask the people who are working and experiencing this light level, sometimes everyday, what they think about it.  Is it too bright or dim, does it cause them headaches or eyestrain, is the colour temperature too soft or too sharp, all these questions will give a comprehensive view of where the problems lie and what you can do to improve the lighting.
  • Increase/ Decrease light levels where necessary- A fairly simple solution, but one that can make a big difference.  Increasing the light from too dim will make staff more awake and will help task visibility, meaning jobs will be done quicker and more efficiently.  Decreasing the light levels from too bright will reduce physiological symptoms such as headaches, and might also help with psychological issues such as stress.
  • Prioritize windows- Not the easiest solution, especially if there isn't anywhere for windows to go, but if it is a possibility, windows are vital to staff well-being as they let in daylight, which, as previously mentioned, regulates the body clock.  If this isn't possible however, there are alternatives, mentioned below.
  • Give staff control/ have a changing light system set up- By doing this, the light can mimic daylight by changing throughout the day, giving staff exposure to the same light they would have if they were outside.  This also means that staff aren't exposed to too bright or too dim light constantly throughout the day and so can avoid the various problem these cause.
  • Avoid one type of light- This means you can still have the benefits from good retail lighting but also help your staff at the same time.  For example, by pointing bright spotlights at the products but keeping walkways slightly dimmer, you can have the contrast in lighting which emphasises the product, while also shielding shopping assistant from the glare.

Further Resources:

Read our article on How the Right Retail Lighting can Boost your Sales:

Find out How to Retrofit your Retail Store with LED Lights:

How lighting affects your Brand Image:

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