Profitable Times Newsletter

Lighting in Museum Stores

Lighting is arguably the most impactful retail design element. Effective lighting will attract visitors into the store, heighten interest in the products and increase sales. The impact of lighting is improved by having the flexibility that comes from the availability of the core light sources described below.

Natural, Ambient and Accent Lighting

Natural lighting, once eliminated at all costs from retail environments, is now a welcome source of lighting from big-box discount stores to the smallest museum store environments. However, now that is a welcome source it also has to be controlled because of its potential harmful effects, especially on paper, fabric and packaging. The control of natural lighting can start with the application of similar standards of protection used in museum galleries and the regular rotation of products most affected by sunlight.

Ambient lighting usually refers to that which provides the basic level of light for the entire store. A store that only has ambient light is perceived to be merchandising lower priced and basic quality products. Higher end and better quality products require less ambient and more accent lighting. Some typical ambient light fixtures include fluorescents, hanging/pendant fixtures and up lighting.

Accent lighting can include amiable recessed fixtures, lighting within fixtures and flood and spot lamps on track lights that can also provide ambient lighting that is warmer than fluorescents, A critical benefit of accent lighting is that it is adjustable to meet merchandising changes, which requires that it be easily accessible for focusing and maintenance.

Special Lighting Applications

Some areas of the store and product categories benefit highly from specialized lighting. Most important among these is jewelry.


In most museum stores the jewelry selection includes many pieces that are priced at the upper levels of the store's retail price range. In addition, jewelry is frequently the best selling product category and usually has the highest margins. The maximization of jewelry sales requires a focused and significant amount of light.

Jewelry lighting characteristics include:

  • Lighting in the jewelry case. So jewelry can be seen clearly and the perceived value enhanced, reflection from the glass jewelry case needs to be reduced which requires internal case lighting about three times brighter than the store's general light level. Even moderate levels of effective jewelry lighting cannot be achieved through a lighting source external to the jewelry case.
  • Multiple sources of light points, rather than a florescent tube for example, help to make sure light reaches and reflects from every jewelry surface. A series of small lights that provide a white natural light is usually the best.
  • The light sources can come from the front of the jewelry case where the horizontal glass meets the vertical glass or the front vertical corners. Lighting shining toward the customer from the back of the case is less effective and often problematic.


Most book buyers at least thumb through a book before buying it. The light levels in this area need to be bright enough that a quick preview is encouraged and can be done comfortably.

General Merchandising

Products merchandised on tall perimeter fixtures, especially those with glass shelving and products that are either transparent or less densely merchandised, thus allowing the light to penetrate deep among the shelves, benefits from lights integrated into the fixtures. Most typically these lights are either directly above, forward of the shelving or mounted vertically along the sides of the fixture. Perhaps the most effective integrated fixture lighting is that used to illuminate the highest priced, non-jewelry products in the store. Incremental lighting that enhances their perceived value increases sales of these products.

Clear and translucent art pieces can be highlighted effectively, with no lighting hot spots, using back wall and under-shelf semi-opaque surfaces for an even distribution of light.

Products merchandised on pedestals under glass or clear acrylic covers will come alive through the use of spotlights shining down through the tops of the covers.

A brighter lighting scheme will draw customers to where you want them to go. For certain, the back wall, regardless of how big or small the space, should be one of the brightest parts of your store.


Windows that offer views into the store from the outdoors or well-lit internal common areas also need attention. Similar to the jewelry case, the view into the store from these areas will benefit from cutting the glare and reflection off the glass that is created because of the difference in brightness between the brighter external areas versus the comparatively darker store. Interior lighting located very close to the glass and focused down toward product merchandised close to the glass, will make that product more visible. Also, be aware that larger, lighter colored products will show up the best.

Task Lighting

In-store task lighting includes that above the cash-wrap and transaction areas where light levels need to be bright enough that electronic and manual transactions can be seen clearly.

Lighting Circuits

Multiple light circuits, such as those below, provide additional flexibility.

  • Full lighting when the store is open
  • Partial lighting for working in the store when the museum is closed
  • A timer on a circuit to light the store when it is closed but the museum is open

Perhaps the strongest trend in retail lighting, often encouraged by LEED certification requirements, is the realization that improved lighting must be balanced with energy efficiency and controlled costs of operation.

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