How Retail Daylighting Benefits the Bottom Line

While the upfront cost of high-performance daylighting can be daunting to designers, multiple studies show the long-term benefits of retail daylighting greatly outweigh the initial investment. By illuminating their storefront and sales floor with natural light, retailers can better their brand, lower operating costs, improve appearance, boost sales, and even support the health and productivity of their employees – providing conventional retailers with the return they need to compete in an increasingly unconventional market of online sales and delivery services.



As the demand for action against climate change grows, retailers can appeal to today’s environmentally-conscious shoppers by minimizing energy consumption. “Now, perhaps more than ever before, consumers demand transparency and responsibility from the brands they support,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of USGBC, “The retail sector is no exception, and many retailers recognize the importance of developing healthy, sustainable spaces that both delight their customers and support the larger community” [7]. This trend was confirmed by the Retail Industry Leaders Association that found:

  • 93% of global consumers expect the brands they use to support social and environmental issues.
  • An estimated 68 million adult Americans base their purchases on their values—personal, social and environmental—and say they will spend up to 20% more on environmentally sound products” [4].

With more customers shopping at and purchasing from retailers that support sustainable practices, companies can establish a positive brand image and stand out against competitors by reducing carbon emissions and embracing natural daylighting. Incorporating daylight into retail design not only decreases the amount of energy consumed by artificial lighting, but translucent daylighting like Major’s Guardian 275® panel systems also prevents excessive HVAC usage from unwanted solar heat gain. It is estimated that something as simple as installing energy-efficient skylights and wall systems can reduce a retailer’s total carbon emission by up to 29% [5].

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Energy-efficient daylighting is not only good for the environment, it’s also good for business. Energy is the fourth-largest in-store operating cost for retailers [6] and, according to the Department of Energy, artificial lighting consumes nearly as much electricity in a retail setting as refrigeration, equipment, heating, and cooling combined [8]. Retailers who take advantage of natural light, however, can cut electrical costs by reducing their reliance on artificial lighting. And by utilizing translucent daylighting systems, retailers can also add daylight without having to stress the store’s HVAC system to compensate for unwanted heat gain or loss that often accompanies standard glass systems. Researchers have estimated that incorporating daylighting and lighting controls can reduce a retailer’s overall operating costs by up to 33% [5]. A 2003 study “Daylight and Retail Sales” by the Heschong Mahone Group, Inc. found that daylit stores saved an average of $0.24/square foot with their current daylighting design with a potential to save up to $0.66/square foot with state-of-the-art daylighting [7].



Natural light improves the appearance of stores as well as the products inside. Many shoppers prefer the ambiance of the sun’s light to artificial lighting, and prefer to shop in stores that utilize it. Daylight creates a welcoming environment where research shows shoppers are more likely to spend time relaxing and shopping [5]. Translucent daylighting also helps stores maintain comfortable in-store temperatures by allowing diffused light to spill throughout the store without the intensity of the sun’s direct rays creating uncomfortable shopping conditions and hot spots. This positive in-store experience naturally leads to more sales.

Research conducted by the Eneref Institute also concluded that natural lighting makes for the best possible presentation of goods, finding everything from fresh fruit to soda bottles to be more visually appealing when shelved under skylights. Because daylight, unlike artificial lighting, accurately renders all wavelengths of light, products displayed in natural lighting more accurately reflect their true color [5]. And when products reflect their true color, shoppers are more confident of the product they chose and are less likely to return the product later [1]. This theory was confirmed by a popular 1993 Walmart study in which skylights were installed on half of the store’s rooftop. Products located under the skylights sold better than those under the fluorescent electric lighting even when workers swapped merchandise and saw the same increase in sales among products previously displayed under fluorescent lighting.



While reduced electrical expenses alone can have a considerable impact on a retailer’s return, the profit growth from increased sales as a result of daylighting is estimated to be worth 45-100 times more [7]. Research has found that natural lighting in stores creates a welcoming environment more favorable to in-store purchases and is as equally influential to a retailer’s profit potential as more traditional variables such as local competitors, neighborhood demographics, and parking space. In their study “Daylight and Retail Sales”, the Heschong Mahone Group examined this relationship between monthly sales and the presence of daylight across 73 chain store locations in California (24 primarily lit by diffusing skylights). Consistent with their previous study, the group found that adding skylights to a non-skylighted store is likely to increase sales by approximately 40% [7].



Just as natural lighting improves the moods of shoppers, it also has the same effect on shop employees. The sun is the most powerful regulator of the body’s sleep/wake cycle and regular exposure to its light during store hours helps workers, particularly shift workers, to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake refreshed and on-time [1]. Sunlight also regulates the release of mood-altering hormones like Serotonin that help retail workers stay positive and productive throughout their shift. Studies show that happy workers perform up to 12% better than unhappy workers [1]; and when workers are happy, often so are the customers. Shoppers who experience neatly stocked shelves and friendly cashiers are more likely to leave with a full cart and a positive word for friends and family and have a greater chance of returning to the store for repeat purchases.


To learn more about how diffused daylight can be applied to retail spaces to benefit the bottom line and improve sales, employee productivity, energy efficiency, and public image, check out Major’s daylighting design guide for retail settings: