EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The “easy” part of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market means that its stores are “easy and comfortable to shop,” said Brendan Wonnacott, communications director for the chain, owned by U.K.-based Tesco. “And a big aspect of that is the lighting in the stores.”
To cut down on artificial light and still provide brightly lit stores, Fresh & Easy has installed multiple skylights in the roofs of about half of its 159 stores — mostly stores that have been built from the ground up — and plans to put them in new stores, including five out of nine that will open in California in September. The average store uses 23 5-by-6-foot skylights. Wonnacott declined to cite the costs of the skylights.
Skylights have been “an important aspect” of Fresh & Easy stores since the chain opened its initial small-format stores in November 2007, said Wonnacott. A small number of existing stores acquired by the chain have been retrofitted with skylights, something that's “possible, though difficult to do,” he said. The chain currently has 98 California stores, 34 stores in Phoenix and 27 in Las Vegas.
Customers find the stores with skylights “more welcoming,” Wonnacott said. “It creates a more natural look and it feels better.” Though no data has been collected by Fresh & Easy to tie skylighting to increased sales, “the more comfortable and inviting the store, the more customers come through the doors,” he said.
Skylights also fit Fresh & Easy's focus on energy conservation and environmental friendliness. Benefiting from their location in California, Arizona and Nevada, Fresh & Easy stores equipped with skylights require “no or very little artificial light during a good portion of the day,” Wonnacott said.
In addition, the skylights, from Sunoptics, Sacramento, Calif., employ “prismatic” technology designed to maximize the light while minimizing the heat coming into the store, helping to reduce air-conditioning costs, Wonnacott said. Overall, Fresh & Easy's stores use 33% less energy than a similarly sized supermarket; he couldn't provide the proportion of that savings associated with skylighting, which the chain is currently studying.
A 1999 “Skylighting and Retail Sales” study done by the Heschong Mahone Group for California's Pacific Gas & Electric looked at a chain that had some stores with skylights and others without. All other things being equal, the stores would experience 40% higher sales if they were fitted with skylights, the study said. A second “Daylight and Retail Sales” study by H-M-G in 2003 of another chain in a different sector came up with a range whose upper bound was 40%.