Commercial Lighting, Retail Lighting

How Lighting Impacts Purchase Behaviour

Lighting is considered an “atmospheric”, which means that it’s a design element that stores, restaurants, and other businesses can use to influence consumers, clients, and even employees. Knowing how atmospherics like lighting, scent, temperature, or music sway the feelings and actions of people is useful for both sides of the exchange—businesses can use it to entice, encourage, and influence mood and purchase behaviour, and consumers can be more aware of how they are being affected so they can evaluate their choices more carefully to avoid buyer’s remorse and the stress of dealing with returns.

In this post, we’ll shine some light on why lighting—an atmospheric that consumers don’t actively engage with in store settings—influences our behaviour, as well as how that influence can be utilized.

The Influence of Illumination

Whether you experience S.A.D. or not, you’re probably aware that light has a strong influence over your mood. A number of studies conducted over the years have shown that lighting has the power to enhance or discourage productivity, creativity, openness and receptivity—it can even affect the taste of food.

According to the research of Xun (Irene) Huang, Ping Dong, Aparna Labroo and Dorothy K Sit at Kellogg School, “we feel less connected to others in the dark. So we assign less weight to what others think and more weight to what we authentically desire.” This means we are more likely to select decadent, indulgent, or “hedonic” options when light levels are low. Didn’t plan on ordering dessert or splurging on designer sunglasses? Lighting may be partially to blame.

Their research also suggests that dim or dark lighting can inspire customers to:

  • “Shop at a slower pace”
  • “Underestimate portion size”
  • “Perceive spicy foods as less enjoyable”
PRO TIP: According to the Kellogg study, being reminded of your friends and family limits the impact low lighting has on your decisions. So, if you are worried about making a shopping choice you’ll regret, bring a trustworthy friend with you to keep you feeling connected and remind you to make more practical choices.

Conversely, their research shows that bright lighting inspires people to make more practical purchase decisions because they feel more connected to and aware of others. Very bright lighting on the other hand, can create heightened emotional states that cause shoppers to buy items more impulsively. This is why you typically see bright lighting in queue lines, where many retailers will display impulse items.

PRO TIP: Studies also show that bright lighting “influence[s] shoppers to examine and handle more merchandise,” though it does not necessarily encourage more or larger purchases.

Businesses can take advantage of both bright and dim lighting, changing the ambient light throughout the day to impact customer behaviour by installing dimmable lighting:

The Takeaway

The influence lighting has over the choices consumers make means that lighting can be manipulated throughout a space to nudge customers in one direction or another, as well as to help to shape the impression consumers have of the brand.

Whether your store or eatery should have bright or dim lighting, or a mix of both, ultimately depends on the product or service you offer and your overall goals. It is best to consult with a lighting expert to find a lighting design that will suit your space, budget, and brand identity, but here are some points to keep in mind:

Type of Lighting

Dim Lighting

Bright Lighting

Behaviour it encourages
  • Impulsive, pleasure-seeking
  • Larger, more expensive, and indulgent purchases
  • Slower shopping
  • Self-authenticity
  • Creativity
  • Preference for less-spicy food
  • Underestimating portion size
  • Practical choices
  • More productive working habits
  • Customers handling more products
  • Mindful purchases
    Influenced by opinions of other shoppers
  • Honest and ethical
  • Heightened emotional state
Impressions it creates
  • Intimate or cozy
  • High quality, luxurious, expensive
  • Relaxed and calm
  • Spacious
  • Lower price and quality
  • Natural and healthy
Places to use it
  • Dessert sections
  • High-end restaurants and restaurants with indulgent foods
  • Luxury retailers
  • Creative spaces
  • Return desks
  • Health food stores or sections, or restaurants
  • Discount or bargain sections and stores
  • Restaurants with spicy food
  • Stores that sell ‘practical’ products, such as organisational or home improvement items
  • Offices
    Queues and point of sale areas

A Light Touch

Lighting is an easy-to-work-with tool that can and should be used to enhance the environment and atmosphere of any space. Using it to influence mood can benefit your business and improve the in-store experience for both employees and patrons.

Need help designing or redesigning your store lighting? Get in touch with our lighting design services team.


About Nicky Walker

Nicola is a lighting specialist at The Lightbulb Company with a keen awareness of the important role lighting plays in our everyday lives. She enjoys discovering new ways in which lighting can affect science, mental health and of course, most of all, reduce our carbon footprints.