Primark’s flagship store in Oxford Street probably represents the high-water mark of light levels in retail. The past decade has seen what’s been termed ‘lux inflation’ where ambient illumination has got brighter and brighter. This has forced a commensurate rise in accent lighting and spotlights have had to deliver increasingly powerful beams to punch through to the merchandise.
Opened in 2007, the 6,500 square-metre store is spread over two floors and occupies the Marble Arch building that was once home to C&A. With one of the highest footfalls in the West End, it’s clearly a slice of prime retail real estate.
But it’s also a perfect example of a retailer that’s got caught up in the arms race of lighting: The specified level is a whopping 1,200 lux at 0.75m, and we measured levels of a staggering 4,000 lux on some of the merchandise and an average on the walkways of 650 lux. Make no mistake – this is a very bright store. For no discernible reason, the home section is a higher level again, perhaps because of the lower ceiling height. These cushions must be the brightest in Christendom.
The light sources are a standard retail mix: T5 fluorescent for the ambient lighting and ceramic metal halide for the accent lighting.You couldn’t describe these as inefficient lamps by any measure – but the Oxford Street store uses a lot of kit to deliver the high illumination. Also, despite the generous ceiling height, the fluorescent fittings are recessed. This means the ceiling has clean lines of light, but recessing them nearly always reduces their efficiency. No figures for installed power density are available.
‘I think there is a generic problem in retail,’ says Liz Peck, secretary of the Society of Light and Lighting. ‘Every store wants to be more dominant than the store next door, and that leads to everyone thinking that you need to light it even brighter. Whereas what you actually need to do is light it a bit more cleverly.
‘The walkways shouldn’t be to that level – it should be about accent lighting on the merchandise, not flooding the floor. It’s about lighting the product.’
The good news is that although Primark is still very much in love with high light levels, it has recognised that it needs to reduce its energy use. It’s also a retailer that is set to be clobbered with the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme tax next year, so it has called in retail lighting specialists LAPD to advise it on a new rollout of stores.
LAPD assessed Oxford Street because it was the concept Primark wanted to roll out, but with a more efficient treatment.
‘It was clubbing seals taking energy out of that scheme,’ says Glenn Campion. LAPD was commissioned to design the lighting at a trial store, in Tooting in south London, which would have the same look as Oxford Street but with the potential for large reductions in energy.
LAPD designed the Tooting store to 1,200 lux but, crucially, used a Dali control system to dim it to 800 lux. Also, the team reduced the light levels on the walkway to provide contrast with the rest of the store, and improved the efficiency of the walkway luminaires. ‘Where the scheme was just bleached with light
before, we encouraged them to reduce the lighting on the walkways by showing them a series of plots,’ says Campion. ‘Naturally, the “landscape of clothing” if you can call it that, feels brighter and more enticing. By reducing it on the walkways, we reduced the energy consumption but it also gave the store an element of dynamism in terms of creating changes in lighting levels.’
LAPD also improved the LOR (see Tech Briefing, page 96) of the recessed fluorescent fittings over the walkways. A different material diffuser was installed by iGuzzini which meant a single 28W T5 fluorescent lamp could be used instead of the twin 54W sources at Oxford Street.
Overall, the measures represent a 36 per cent energy reduction compared with Oxford Street.
‘The bottom line is that they are very happy with 800 lux,’ says Campion. ‘The idea is we now agree a new designed illuminance that will go into their design guide for future stores.’ And, LAPD was careful to specify kit that would be eligible for tax rebates under the Government’s Enhanced Capital Allowances scheme.