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What's Your Sign?
Nine Tips for Producing Effective Retail Signage for Your Business

There’s an oft-cited statistic in the retail industry that you have three seconds to attract a customer’s attention. For retailers, an easy and effective way to communicate with these customers is through quality signage that reflects your brand.

“An effective signage strategy will create a positive and rewarding customer experience and drive sales through clear product information. Your customers will rely less on sales staff to answer basic questions. Other benefits of effective signage include higher perceived value for products, increased brand equity and overall better retail sales.” (Kinsella 2012)

Despite the importance of signage, some retailers consider it more of an afterthought, something DS Marketing Solutions says is short-sighted…and costly. “It costs a whole lot more to bring in new customers with advertising than it does to increase sales with current customers. You have an incredible opportunity to increase sales with customers that are already in your store by using in-store signage effectively.” (DS 2006)

While it’s clear that signage is an essential tool to operating a successful retail establishment, there are many factors that must be considered when developing an appropriate signage strategy.


“You have an incredible opportunity to increase sales with customers that are already in your store by using in-store signage effectively.”


Tip No. 1: Focus on Customer Experience

At its core, retail signage has one purpose: to communicate with the customer. Businesses should prioritize this goal above all others when developing retail signage. After all, what’s the point of a sign if the public can’t understand the message around it? There are several ways to improve the customer experience.

First, analyze the space with fresh eyes. “One of the best ways…is to leave your store and to re-enter, but this time walk in like a customer.” (Foxfire) Be honest about what works and what doesn’t. What’s easy to find, and what is missing? Are the signs easy to understand, or are they jumbled or confusing?

Tip No. 2: Think About Location, Location, Location

Sign placement can seem deceptively simple, but there are many important elements to consider. Of course a sign needs to be placed in an appropriate location where it can be seen, interpreted and ultimately drive consumer action. But what else do you need to consider?

For exterior signage, make sure to place it where it can be seen by as many passersby—on foot and in vehicles--as possible. Consider factors like glare, and what might block it (parked cars? Delivery trucks? Hot dog cart?) at different times of the day or week. Effectively placed, you have a guaranteed presence worth far more than the cost of the sign installation. “You pay for your signs once, and they work for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” (Bang 2011)

As for interior signage, “Use interior directional signage to guide [customers] to the products and services in the store, including restrooms and checkout areas. Place product information signs near products to encourage sales.” (Kinsella 2012) Take into account eye level, glare from overhead lights or incoming sunlight and possible viewing obstructions.

Tip No. 3: Play I Spy

Check out your competition or other stores you admire, and watch what other establishments are up to. No, this isn’t a sneaky, shameful practice—it’s smart business. Pay attention to what others are doing, and consider whether it’s a good fit for your business. By benchmarking other companies, you just may discover something that you should do—or even not do—in your own business. You just may become the establishment that others are eyeing to see what best practices you’ve implemented in your own retail signage.

Tip No. 4: Go Digital

With the evolution of technology comes a transition in the retail environment as well. More and more retailers are considering digital solutions to their signage needs. Digital signage can be more costly to produce, yet the ability to adjust messaging quickly and the buyer’s familiarity with digital screens make these options competitive in the marketplace.

“Digital signage is set to play a significant role in the retail store environments of the near future. For it to be of genuine commercial value digital signage must add a certain buzz to the shopping experience. Screen positioning and content presentation need to be clever, and they must work together to communicate action. After all, if your digital signage isn’t driving sales then what’s the point?” (B2C 2012) The point is, taking risks, like adding digital signage, may just pay off in a big way when used appropriately in conjunction with more traditional printed solutions.

Tip No. 5: Get the Look Right

Once the type and placement of signage is established, it’s time to focus on presenting your messaging in a way that is professional and well-designed. Otherwise, customers are going to ignore the very important information you are trying to communicate. There are some basic graphic design rules that should always be followed. “Be consistent with the feature lines, price, size, color, and fonts so the customer’s eyes can easily scan the sign. Allow for plenty of white space, keep the font simple, be sure the text is balanced and proportional and consider using bullets. Highlight words in bold or by using a different color. Avoid using all capital letters, which makes it difficult to read.” (DS 2006)

Color choices are also critical. Even a sign that looks nice and professionally designed from an aesthetic perspective may not be as readable as it needs to be in a retail environment. “Use contrasting colors for the font and background. The most visible colors are black, white and red for the text, and these should be printed over backgrounds that are as opposite as possible. For example, white text on a black background, or red type over a yellow background can improve readability. Backgrounds that are nearly the same color as text can render signs nearly unreadable.” (Johnston)

Further, your color palette and design choices should be reflected everywhere, not just on your signs. “Don’t go crazy with color. Pick a simple two or three color scheme and stick with it throughout the store. Pick a background color, text color and highlight color.” (Inspire 2013)

Tip No. 6: Say It Like You Mean It

Clear, compelling messaging is what sets apart great signage from mediocre. Different signage has specific goals, and when a retailer can convey these distinct messages in a way that is clear, informative, and above all, still on brand, that business is going to be more competitive. Informative signage such as directional signage must be concise and readable to enable users to understand the message with a split-second glance. Signs that tell a story, though they should still be readable, may allow for more flexibility in design. “By paying special attention to the story, you give life to key products and elevate their perceived value. When a product story is told effectively, it has the power to turn a potentially ordinary product into a hard-won find. Your customers will then share these stories with their friends to give the products more enduring value.” (Kinsella 2012)

Tip No. 7: Keep It Simple

“When you craft your sign, write down the message you want to get across, then rewrite it in as few words as possible. Keep reducing until you have one to five words for your headline. If necessary, write a small amount of supporting information below.” (Inspire 2013) That way, the message is clear, as opposed to confusing or loud.

This sound advice should be applied to design as well. The bottom line? Simplicity is key. “Make your signage easy to read. Some signs are so full of tiny images, starbursts, exclamation marks, and small print, that you can’t take it all in.” (Inspire 2013)

Retailers can be strategic about signage development. After all, different types of signs and the variety of uses for each may mean that there is opportunity for a more sophisticated message. “The more time the customer will be spending looking at the sign, the more information you can include. For example, a sign near your cash register, where your customer will be waiting for a transaction to be processed, can provide details of a contest or return policy.” (Inspire 2013)


“Some signs are so full of tiny images, starbursts, exclamation marks, and small print, that you can’t take it all in.”


Tip No. 8: Be Consistent

Once a look and feel is established, it’s critical to stick with it. “Ensure your signs have a unique look and feel used consistently throughout all media, in stores, online and in advertising. Use consistent colors, font choices and logo treatments. These can be modified seasonally for impact, but ensure that all are switched at the same time. A consistent visual story will reinforce your brand and convey stability to your customers” (Kinsella 2012).

Tip No. 9: Make Quality a Priority

Given that all business owners know how critical it is to inspire trust in their customers, it’s surprising how many stumble at producing well-made, error-free signage. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Creating quality signage is an easy and inexpensive way to cultivate that trust. “Signs will convey your authority and attention to detail. Make sure they are clear and accurate every time. Poorly printed signs, misspelled words and other inaccuracies can erode your credibility.” (Kinsella 2012)

So what’s your sign? If you take the time to do it right, your sign should be professional, effective…and profitable.


Types of Signage

Forget the idea the only retail signage a business needs is the one above the door. Smart retailers know that they have to use multiple types of sign to communicate essential information to the consumer, including:

  1. Directional. The goal of this type of signage is to help the customer navigate the space.
  2. Branded. While branding should be incorporated on all signage, some pieces may serve only one purpose—to reinforce your look and message. Outdoor signage in particular should be branded effectively to draw the customer in and help to convey the experience inside the establishment.
  3. Informative. Whether announcing a special event or providing details about a product, signs that aim to inform are critical to customers.
  4. Value demonstration. In addition to creating a sense of urgency, these signs profile sale or promotional items, helping customers find opportunities to save and make the most of their shopping experience.
  5. Highlighted. Have new items in stock? Ready to push seasonal wares? Signs that showcase a particular type of product offer an opportunity for retailers to communicate specifics for these featured items.

Retail Signage DOs and DON'Ts

DO think before you purchase. Signage makes a statement, and it’s more effective when it is thought out.
DON’T throw in everything but the kitchen sink…simple is better.
DO establish a consistent brand and use it across your business.
DON’T forget about readability—font, color choices and size all matter when it comes to getting your point across.
DO invest in quality pieces. It shows when you do.
DON’T forget that it’s all about the customer.
DO look at what other businesses are doing.
DON’T be afraid to take risks.


Works Cited

Bang Advertising. Why Exterior Signage Provides the Best ROI for Retailers. 2011. Source Link


Business 2 Community. 5 Ways for Retailers to Drive Sales Using Digital Signage. 2012. Source Link


DS Marketing Solutions. Retail Signage…Tips for Increasing Sales & Service. 2006. Source Link


Foxfire. How to Start Using Retail Signage. Source Link


Inspire Retail Solutions. How to Create Effective Retail Signs. 2013. Source Link


John Kinsella. IGC Retailer. Powerful Signage Promotes Your Brand. 2012. Source Link


Kevin Johnston. Demand Media. Rules for Effective Retail Signage. Source Link

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