Retail Signage Matters – Part 1 External Signage

Retail signage comes in all shapes & sizes. In any retail landscape a passer-by may encounter hundreds of signs on buildings and storefronts conveying many types of messages. Store names, brands, advertisements, product categories, sale prices, directional arrows, and trading hours commonly appear on most shopfronts in one form or another, and all compete for attention.

In an effort to process so much information, customers instinctively tune out. They sub-consciously filter their visual surroundings and only really notice a few key words or concepts here and there that the mind has programmed itself to take interest in.

So to be noticed, the exercise for many retailers becomes one of correctly identifying the key messages that will interest their target market.

The signs you place on the outside of your store can identify, inform and inspire customers to help them understand your business.

The type, size and location of these messages can affect the way the store is “read” by the customer. This “reading” tells a story about who you are, what you sell and why they should buy from you.

But the best story in the world is of little use if customers do not stop and come in. Any external message can only succeed in its task if it gets a customer off the street and into the shop. After all, that’s where the buying takes place. Thus all external retail messages have the same single objective: to simply get customers from outside to inside.

But what sorts of messages do this best? How can we identify the right messages to entice customers into our store? A good starting point is to think about the reasons why a customer does not want to come in, and tailor your messages to solve these problems.

By seeing your signs as problem-solvers, you can begin to strategically align your messages with the mental hurdles that customers create.

This becomes easier when we understand that the sub-conscious reasoning that customers use to pass-by a store can follow a similar line. For example:

  1. They just didn’t notice your store
  2. They noticed your store but are not sure what you sell
  3. They know what you sell but don’t think they need the product
  4. They need the product but are not sure you’re the right quality or price for them
  5. They are happy with your quality/price but are not ready to buy
  6. They are ready to buy but don’t know when you’re open
  7. They know when you’re open but maybe just can’t find a car park or see the front door

Customers can be fickle. They prefer the path of least resistance and if your store fails to solve just one of these problems it can be enough to turn them away. But if your signage can provide answers then the barriers disappear and the path to entry opens up.

A simpler way to understand these questions is as a list of the “who, what, why, when and how” of external signage.

-        Who are you? (store name)

-        What do you sell? (brands & product categories)

-        Why should I buy from you? (positioning statement & promotions)

-        When can I come? (trading hours)

-        How do I get in? (parking, entry doors)

Whilst regular customers may already know your store, new customers need help. Your store name is the starting point for this help.

The “Who” sign (store name) usually ranks as the most important brand-differentiator on any retail frontage. Not only does it gives customers a way to tell your business apart from others in the street, but also completes the link to any awareness or word-of-mouth advertising that may be in the community. Your store name should be the most prominent sign on your shopfront and clearly visible from a distance to approaching traffic.

The “What” sign (brands & products) often ranks a close second for many smaller retailers. Depending on the level of brand-awareness you have, the type of products you sell can sometimes even be more important than your name. In retail pharmacy, the words “Pharmacy”, “Chemist” or even just the internationally recognised cross logo are powerful triggers for capturing the attention of the target market and explaining concisely what you sell. Be careful not to rely on this alone though. Whilst this type of sign can work well, it does not by itself represent your brand and should be supported by other key differentiating messages such as “Who” and “Why”.

The “Why” sign can provide key messages sometimes overlooked by smaller retailers. It is however extremely important because it provides to customers the reason why they should come into your store rather than your competitor’s. There are two types of “Why” sign; firstly for brand-positioning to differentiate on quality, service or price, and secondly for promotions to advertise a special product or service. Both of these work together to create a compelling argument for your business, but the brand-positioning statement should always be permanent and more prominent. Though large retail chains can use media advertising to explain their point-of-difference to the market, small stores need to rely on their store front to convey this message.

Whilst “Who, What and Why” can solve the three most powerful reasons that customers may have for passing your store by, their visit may yet be sabotaged by “How” and “When” problems.

“How” and “When” can be solved with secondary operational messages such as “Open 7 Days”, “Parking at Rear”, or “Enter via Main St.”, which facilitate the transition of customers from outside to inside. Along the path of least resistance even a small frustration can turn customers away, so a simple operational message in the right location can often make the difference between a no-show and a visit. Operational messages should never dominate a store façade, however they should always be concise, and exist only to overcome any final obstacles to entry in the customers mind.

Combining the answers to these five questions in your external signage is imperative to creating an enticing story about your business.

Remember: your store front is free advertising space for your business. Use it wisely to solve the “Who, What, Why How & When” problems that customers create and you can take full advantage of it’s ability to turn passing traffic into paying customers.