Digitalisation is fast impacting all areas of our daily lives, and also marks the dawn of a new era for light. Following rapid development over the last few years, one can safely say that lighting industry has now arrived in the digital world. LED technology is now not only highly energy efficient but it can also deliver excellent quality light and is controllable. Digital light today enables us to adjust the lighting in a space to meet a wide range of different needs – achieving intelligent solutions, based on the expertise in the market, and in close collaboration with lighting designers and electrical engineers, facility managers and end users. Intelligent lighting solutions will in future play a key role in the “Internet of Things”, offering unexpected advantages and enhancing the quality of life.
This was addressed at the roundtable discussion that was held recently in collaboration with FM today Magazine and Smart Stores Expo. The event saw experts from the lighting, FM, and retail industry come together to discuss, ‘How will the lighting industry make a difference in the digital world?’
Moderated by Mark Vowles, Director, Nulty Lighting, the discussion also saw other experts like Sergio Padula, Technical Director, iGuzzini; Srinivasa Raghavan, Senior Division Manager, Chalhoub Group; Olav Scholte, Senior Marketing Manager, Philips Lighting; Sheriff Hussein, Construction Management Head, Magrabi Retail; Abdo Baaklini, Marketing Projects Manager, Debbas Electric; Stuart Harrison, Solutions Director, Emrill Integrated Facilities Management; Charles Wright, Sales Manager, Fagerhult and Sanjay Mahapadi, DGM - Properties & Facilities, Landmark Group.
LIGHTING STANDARDS SET BY MALLS
The discussion addressed many key issues, challenges and solutions in the industry including the kind of lighting standards set by the malls. Lighting plays a key role in inviting potential customers into the stores and while there are no set standards followed in the region, most malls set the acceptable lux standards. But few did note that there is no uniform standard among malls. Sanjay Mahapadi, DGM - Properties & Facilities, Landmark Group, pointed out, “When it comes to lighting standards in the region each mall sets their own standards. At Landmark Group we follow the acceptable lux levels set by the market but as a tenant, in other malls, we follow the standards set by them.”
The lux levels are based on many factors including the type of brand, footfall seen at the stores etc. Hence, there are times when one can witness various types of lux levels under one roof, making it very challenging for individual brand to maintain a healthy competition with their neighbor. Commenting on the uniform levels set by malls in the region Srinivasa Raghavan, Senior Division Manager – Design Fashion 1 of the Chalhoub Group, said, “It is a challenge for the brands to stand out and keep up healthy competition in a uniform light setting. However, recent trends have seen malls segregating brands, as a result, lighting levels vary for each group of stores selling similar products or areas with specific themes. Bright lighting with an option of fine-tuning can be helpful in providing better customer experience in a multi-brand environment.”
Charles Wright, Retail Sales Manager at Fagerhult Middle East, stated that shopping malls in the region have a totally different lighting concept to that of European equivalents. “Many of the brands that Fagerhult work within Europe maintain that lighting is at the core of their interior design and that lighting is a fundamental part of their brand identity. The Middle East shopping outlets have adopted a ‘brighter the better’ approach to lighting stores, with some lux levels exceeding 3500 lux in shop windows. Key elements that we implement during design, such as contrast and shadowing, are neither here nor there in the region. At Fagerhult, we are trying to introduce smarter, dynamic solutions to end users and consumers – drawing upon the idea of phototropism, to draw the eye to the brightest parts of the stores, making the merchandise stand out and encourage sales. At Fagerhult, we believe that a high-quality lighting concept can increase sales by up to 35% - the Middle East may be slightly behind the curve when it comes to LED and smart solutions, but I’m positive that in no time at all, the levels here will be akin to those in Europe, if not superior,” he added.
Sheriff Hussein, Construction Management Head, Magrabi Retail, pointed out that it is a challenge to bring in a uniform standard of lux levels for malls in the region as a lot depends on the design and concept of the mall.
Giving an example of how consumer controlled smart lighting can add value in retailing, Olav Scholte, Segment Marketing Manager at Philips Lighting said that more and more stores are opting for green retail practices and there is a high level of awareness among people about energy saving. “Philips implemented the indoor positioning system in Aswaaq supermarkets, which works with the light communication system. The light communication app helps the customer navigate to the product they are looking for. The project looks beyond illumination, and delivers extra value to retailers, allowing them to provide additional benefits to end-users," Olav added.
Bringing in the facilities management and engineering perspective, Stuart Harrison, Solutions Director at Emrill, said that cost saving is a major decision-making factor when it comes to lighting upgrades in the region. “A lot of retailers here are using generic lux standards specified by malls, or moving to automated LED lighting controls, but very few of them do market research on consumer preferences. An important aspect of in automated lighting is controlling it intelligently to enhance the customer experience” he added.
Abdo Baaklini, Marketing Projects Manager, Debbas Electric LLC too pointed that bright lux levels inside the malls can result in consumers being emotionally detached to the store. “Given the natural conditions, people in the region are accustomed to bright lights. However, when we value engineer keeping up with high lux standards is a challenge as lesser developed products may pose a risk of degradation in terms of colour. This causes two major problems to the retailer; firstly, it affects the consumer perception of product quality, which might affect their interest in the brand. Secondly, it affects the mobility in stores; this will, in turn, result in consumers losing emotional attachment to the space they are in. We should push the industry to accept light levels as per consumer needs and brand experiences,” he said.
LED REVOLUTION AND LIGHTING CONTROL
The discussion then touched upon how one can enrich customers experience with the introduction of LED technology and lighting controls. The controllability of LED technology offers tremendous potential that is waiting to be exploited. One of the most marked divides, in lighting control terms, is in the world of retail lighting. Some experts believed that the chasm between those who enjoy the many benefits of good controls and those who do not use controls at all is vast and widening.
Mahapadi believes that LED lights have had a positive impact on lighting controls. “LED is the future of lighting as they not only provide bright lights but also help in bringing down the cost of utility bills. And most importantly LEDs also reduces the risk of fire in the building as they do not generate as much heat as their halogen counterparts,” he added.
When it comes to lighting controls, Wright said that they are important but it should be done in an intelligent way without having any lack of understanding on how to use the controls properly. Observing the trends in lighting controls, Sergio Padula, Technical Director, iGuzzini said that they are receiving a lot of requests for controls from visual merchandisers. “The reason being, they want to add different types of effects giving possibility to play with colours and beam angles on their display each time they change it.”
Lighting Controls, the group agreed, will tackle more rigid forms of lighting as well. Scholte said that online retailing and sales are ensuring that stores stay updated and relevant to shoppers so that it complements its online version. “We feel that LED will play a very important role here as it is easy to control the light and it’s also easy to play with dynamic effects and colours. This era of LED effects will surely increase the opportunities and offer more flexibility to their customers,” he added.
When asked how important it is for the controls to be intuitive in nature, Hussein said that it largely depends on the store and what it is selling and more importantly how aware the staff is of these controls. He added, “Controls are extremely important but you certainly cannot have the same kind of controls at all stores as a lot depends on the nature and functionality of the store.”
Having all these luxury controls and lights will also come with expenditure for the store. The energy savings that come from optimising lighting use can make a dramatic difference to a retailer’s bottom line. Money saved on electricity has an effect on profitability equivalent to an increase in sales, so it’s remarkable that so few companies embrace lighting controls with gusto. Not only can controls directly increase profits, but they can also enhance the customer experience, which ultimately leads to more brand loyalty, more return visits, and increased profits.
Pointed out that when it comes to lighting efficiency and controls, most clients want the payback period to start within 12 months. “These controls have a market for it in various spaces, but from an FM point of view maintaining them to its maximum capacity can prove to be a challenge. Technology is great but when it comes to the client all he wants is a basic lighting platform that will work well. But frequently we come across with high-end technology which is either designed badly or doesn’t work the way it was intended to,” he added.
News designs and technology do add great value to the product but unfortunately many felt that by the time it gets implemented it has been value-engineered to its maximum capacity with substandard products and it ends up being different from the original plan leaving even the FM team to manage with what’s given to them. While technology is moving ahead quite literally in lighting speed, the panel did feel that not many customers are aware or for that matter even want to use some of the innovations thrown at them. A classic example is that of the LiFi, a trend that is still in its nascent stage in the region. Most designers end up expecting the customers to use such gimmicks whereas the reality is that not many end up using it. Lighting controls, the group believed should be done intelligently and should go unnoticed. And for this to take place, the group felt that it was important to spread awareness about the various standards and also for the designer, consultant, architect and the FM person to sit together during the design stage itself. And by implementing this practice, the group felt that it will prove to be far more beneficial and will bring in the desired results for the end-user. This, they believe, will bring in the best lighting efficiency to the project.
Ultimately it all boiled down to raising awareness in the market. Education is key, said Padula. He added,
“As manufacture We have to contribute to educate the clients and make them aware about the right quantity of light that is required in their store. It’s also important for big brands in the industry to educate the mall owners to focus more on the quality than the quantity of light that is required.”