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Retail Shelf & Display Lighting Trends: A Closer Look

By Mike Wilkening, ARC Communications Manager

To stay atop of trends affecting retail and CPG space planners, we routinely interview figures throughout our industry to learn more about what’s happening on the ground in the market. Our latest Q&A is with Cameron Cloeter, founder and president of Lighting for Impact, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based maker of retail shelf lighting and display merchandising equipment. Our discussion, which was edited lightly for clarity and brevity, focused on the categories and store formats using lighted shelves and displays to stand out.

Q: How do you get started?

Cloeter: I worked for Mars for about 14 years earlier in my career, and then I was in publishing at Time Warner and Simon and Schuster. Then, I opened a company in 2001 called Impulse Marketing, which brought together retailers and CPG companies to develop a holistic view of the front end where all the checkouts are and all those candies and displays and everything you see up there. I ran that business for about 20 years, and it was very successful, and it still is to this day.

About 12 years ago, we were designing all these front ends for retailers, and I was looking at those coolers that we were putting in. The beverage coolers, they’re all lit, and the candy and the snacks were all dark. And I said, what if we lit those up? Now I had no idea other than a conceptual framework, but two things happened. One, I found the right partner who was a lighting expert who sadly passed away, but he helped us with a lot of our initial designs of our systems. The second part that I was very fortunate with one of my clients, Wrigley, (who) really liked the idea of illuminating shelves and what would that do to the gum sales at the checkout.

We went out and tested lighting in five different retailers across the U.S. in seven different stores per retailer. We had the data for over a year so we could look at it week-to-week, month-to-month, and by-store by-SKU. So we had all the scan data.

Here’s the long and short of it. The business went up on average on the gum side by 20% by lighting it.

From there, people said, well, can you do health and beauty? Can you do my wine? Can you do my inline departments? We started to add more product lines and different ways of lighting and things like that. And then we started to get into convenience stores, and to this day it’s our fastest growing channel. A lot of our customers are lighting every single shelf in the whole store today.  We started to get into all kinds of liquor stores, drug stores, sporting goods stores, farm stores and ranch stores, micro markets in unattended retail, and (it) just kind of goes on and on and on. Today we have our lighting in over 70,000 stores in just North America.

Q: What categories are most keen on lighted retail shelves and displays?

Cloeter: As far as categories that are fast-growing, I would say anything that’s health and beauty aids, absolutely. Retailers seem to want that business very badly and compete with the mass channels. Spirits and wine (also) do very well.

Q: Related question: which retailers are leaning into lighted displays?

Cloeter: Small-format retailers, our business is just exploding. Thes guys are building stores all over the place. You go into some of these new convenience stores and they’re just absolutely stunning. (Gas stations), they’ve reinvented themselves in terms of the in-store experience, in terms of food service. I mean, they’re quick service restaurants now, in addition to a place you can get a candy bar and get some gasoline.

Q: Give us an example of a lighted-shelf type or accessory that’s particularly popular right now.

Cloeter: I think the product that is growing at the fastest rate is what we call a Q channel. It attaches to the front of any standard industrial shelving, and it clips onto the shelf. It only sticks out about three-eighths of an inch. It gets that illumination out in front of the shelf, and so it’s particularly effective with pusher systems. It gives a lot of light not only hitting the face of the product but going back into the shelf. We’ve created the perfect angle, so light floods up and down across the face of the product. So if the shelf is half sold-out and the customer walks by and doesn’t see what they want because they can’t see it, our illumination helps the shopper see product on the back half of the shelf.

Q: What about endcaps? Do you have lighted solutions there?

Cloeter: We’ve always installed illuminated endcaps for retailers’ customers. We created overhead inline illumination. So instead of lighting under each shelf, the light is projected from overhead. Think of it like a lamp post positioned out over the gondola. by eight inches.  Brackets hook into the stanchions and the light bar catapults out over the gondola and illuminates downward. The technology is designed to flood lighting eight to nine feet.

Q: What are some of the hurdles you face in terms of adoption?

Cloeter: The challenge we have as a company is to educate retailers on how they can use lighting in a different way by rebalancing their capital expenditure budgets. Reduce the amount of lighting on the ceiling, soften the environment, create a better shopping experience. Then, illuminate categories / products they want to feature on shelf, in aisle and end cap locations.

Once enlightened, our customers become passionate about illumination and understand shelf lighting is the most cost-effective way to build basket sizes with a strong ROI. Test after test has revealed on shelf illumination will grow sales by 5-20%. Once consumer behavior changes sales remain a new elevated level unlike price promotions that resort to the mean.  

Q: What do you see as the future for retail display lighting?

Cloeter: All retailers have an opportunity to use cost-effective on-shelf lighting to accentuate their in-store experience. Broadly speaking, retailers need to step back and rethink their entire lighting strategy in terms of the overall store experience to effectively balance ceiling, refrigeration, freezer and “ambient space” illumination. 

Store lighting is critical and needs to receive leadership attention based upon the profound impact it has. Human senses of sight, smell, sound, and touch enable the shopper’s decision-making process.  Brick and mortar retailers have a significant competitive advantage over e-commerce. To activate those senses at the shelf edge (can) grow not only sales but also shopper loyalty / shopping trips per year. 


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About the Author: Mike Wilkening, Communications Manager, for the Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals (ARC).

Mike brings more than two decades of communications experience to the CMA/SIMA. He began his career in journalism, spending more than 10 years covering the National Football League for Pro Football Weekly and NBC’s Pro Football Talk. His bylines have also appeared in CBS MarketWatch, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NBC New York, and ESPN.com. More recently, he has pivoted to corporate communications, including strategy and messaging experience for a Fortune 500 company. Mike holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois.

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