While interior lighting can literally make or break the atmosphere of a venue, exterior lighting directly contributes to how safe shoppers feel about visiting a store or shopping mall. Although lighting has always been a necessity at a shopping center, today's technologies are making lighting more functional, attractive and energy-efficient.

Exterior lighting elements, from poles to lamp covers, frequently contribute to a decorative theme at an outdoor shopping center. They also ensure safety in parking areas and now, thanks to better lighting plans and energy-efficient technology, avoid burning excessive dollars.

Inside the shopping centers, lighting can sometimes influence a shopper's decision to buy. In fact, good (or bad) lighting of merchandise, particularly clothing or makeup, can change the appearance of the item and greatly affect the shopper.

Good lighting works hand in hand with successful shopping. Lighting technology should not be overlooked when developing or upgrading a shopping center.

From the outside in

The first step toward drawing someone into a retail venue is, literally, taken in the parking lot. Patrons must feel safe enough to want to park, exit their cars and walk into a building anytime day or night.

Exterior lighting includes light poles in parking areas and near doorways as well as wall-mounted lights on building exteriors. A number of commercial companies specialize in exterior lighting for retail, such as Architectural Area Lighting (AAL) of La Mirada, Calif., which makes outdoor lighting fixtures of multiple sizes and materials.

“Our line offers a great deal of flexibility and diversity in mounting capabilities,” says April Ruedaflores, marketing manager for AAL. “With one of our fixtures, you can mount it on an exterior wall or on a pole, in keeping with a design theme.”

Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Advanced Power Technologies (APT) is an electrical contractor that services retailers' all-important exterior light fixtures. The company also offers a complementary Night Watch program: on a monthly basis, technicians visit clients' properties and note any lighting deficiencies or outages, according Devin Grandis, director of operations for the company. APT then automatically or upon retailer approval if the client prefers repairs any deficiencies within three business days.

Energy efficiency

Energy-efficient lighting has become more important in recent years as shopping mall owners look to cut costs. Money can be saved through the selection of the light as well as its usage. Many retailers are finding that lights of slightly lower wattages can do the job as well as brighter ones. For example, Cincinnati-based LSI Images previously used 1,000-watt lamps for exteriors, but now the company is opting for 750-watt and other reduced wattage alternatives to save retailers money. Inside the centers, LSI reports that many retailers who formerly used 400-watt lamps are switching to 320-watt lamps, with a good deal of energy-saving success.

On the ballast side, Nashville-based MagneTek Lighting Products is creating energy savings in its retail retrofits, along with improving the overall lighting aesthetic for its clients. “Retrofits of magnetic ballasts to energy-efficient electronic ballasts can result in up to a 30% to 40% savings in energy,” says Greg Bennorth, the company's director of marketing services. MagneTek's ballasts (the pieces that secure lamps inside a fixture) are used both in shopping centers' indoor and outdoor lighting fixtures.

While owners, retailers and shoppers all agree that bright exterior lights are important at a shopping center, avoiding light pollution is equally important. LSI Images reports that lighting levels are getting too high all across the United States, creating light pollution from shopping centers into nearby neighborhoods.

This phenomenon has motivated the company to re-engineer its fixtures. “We've created a family of fixtures that have a flat lens appearance vs. the traditional sag lens to provide more lighting cut-off,” says Ernie Watson, vice president, national accounts.

Form and function

Even with the “services” that outdoor lighting must provide, it is still possible for the fixtures to be fashionable. That can be accomplished by incorporating graphics and other design elements.

New York-based Barbizon offers what it calls “architainment” applications a combination of architectural applications and entertainment lighting to the retail industry. “We bring a theatrical approach to the retail environment to provide a pleasurable shopping experience for the end-user,” says John Gebbie, systems division manager. “The shopping is no longer just something that you do, it's something you enjoy doing.”

The company has been in business for more than 50 years, originally catering to the feature film, television and theater industries. Gebbie reports that Nordstrom is among Barbizon's largest retail accounts. “They're putting together packages for all their stores that encompass theatrical dimming, movement and changing colors,” he says. “It's really becoming this vibrant place where it's nice to walk through the store.”

Another recent architainment project for Barbizon is Hugo Boss's flagship location in Manhattan. The store features an atrium made up entirely of entertainment-type lighting, which enhances the shopping experience.

From the inside out

Interior lighting is perhaps more significant than outdoor lighting because it can directly affect a purchase. High-quality lighting can help retailers create memorable experiences inside their stores, ensuring return business through pure aesthetics and proper functioning of light within a given space.

Lighting schemes are designed for everything from the stores' signs to merchandise. Luton, England-based Optikinetics Ltd. provides systems of interior lighting for design purposes through two distinct product lines. According to Andrew Silver, vice president and general manager for the company's Ashland, Va., American headquarters, the first product line of effects projection equipment is used to display logos and sales images in retail stores. The second, aluminum truss mounted structures, are used for merchandise.

Retailers can purchase ready-made lighting systems or design their own to suit their stores' interiors. Montreal, Canada-based Lumid Inc. imports materials from all over the world for its customers, according to Dominique Alary, president. “We cater to custom lighting only, with unusual equipment. The atmosphere is created in a major way by lighting.”

The color of the lights also affects a store's aesthetics. Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Trimco offers stretch Lycra lamp covers that allow retailers to change colors as they change lamps. The covers fit over the outside of the lamps and cast a hue or tint on the display. The covers frequently are used by cosmetics departments, according to Ed Fitzpatrick, creative director. Saks Fifth Avenue is among the company's retail clients.

The light ahead

As new technology is developed, and décor continues to evolve, lighting will improve and be counted as more than a checklist item in retail projects. Higher-end retailers in particular, according to industry experts, will choose downlighting over track. Trimco's Fitzpatrick says that “Retailers will go for cleaner, simpler, more contemporary looks in their lighting.”

When it comes to the actual technology behind interior and exterior lamps and ballasts, most lighting professionals foresee retailers embracing pulse-start technology. “The new pulse-start lamps give better lumen production for more brightness, better color rendition and a longer lamp life,” Silver says.

For exterior lighting, especially in parking lots, retailers will opt for brighter as better. “It was once acceptable to have quarter- or half-foot candles,” says APT's Grandis. “We're now seeing shopping centers built with up to 15-foot candles to really brighten up entire parking lots.”

As the industry matures, Grandis also foresees that exterior lighting will use more metal halide technology, which delivers white light. Many centers traditionally used high-pressure sodium lights, which provide an amber color.

The poles on which the lights are mounted also will receive more consideration. Options include composite, metal, steel, aluminum and concrete, and there are advantages to each. Choosing the type of pole depends upon where the light will be located and whether it will be a decorative element or merely a functional one.

As a pole manufacturer who also makes fixtures, WLS Lighting Systems of Ft. Worth, Texas, WLS is sensitive to light trespass issues and strives to outfit its poles with flat-lens fixtures, as opposed to traditional sag lenses. “The sag glass lens is historically more glaring than a flat-glass lens,” says Steve Vardeman, WLS' vice president. “We're also seeing mounting heights the height of the pole being decreased to help control the light on a site,” he adds.

Brighter, whiter and smarter are the keywords for the future of shopping center lighting plans. Although some experimentation may be required to develop the perfect light display, changing light levels and wattages is fairly easy and inexpensive to do. An investment in quality lighting will more than likely provide a return. Shoppers need to be able to see merchandise clearly as well as feel safe in their surroundings, and a good lighting scheme can accomplish both of those tasks.

Carol Badaracco Padgett is an Atlanta-based writer.