Retail Signage Matters – Part 2 Internal Signage

Retail signage is the tour guide that leads customers around your store. It explains, directs, promotes and help you sell.

In my previous article we looked at signage on the outside of the retail store. We learned that the single purpose of external signage was to get customers from outside the shop where they cannot buy to inside the shop where they can buy.

In this issue we will look at signage inside the retail store. Whilst the overall objective is the same - to get customers to buy – the type, quantity and method of communication needed makes the process a little different.

Internal signs come in many shapes & sizes. They vary from large department signs that direct traffic around a store down to small price tickets on the shelf. There are promotional signs, category signs, directional signs, and policy statements. They can appear on the ceiling, walls, shelves, counters, floors and even on staff uniforms.

Poor implementation of these messages can cause confusion and even lead to a complete failure to convey the message. Signs can be the wrong size for the intended viewing distance, positioned in the wrong location, or be designed in a format that is difficult to read.

In fact, since computer-printing technology has become so inexpensive, additional signs have become very easy for retailers to produce in-house. With the power to implement endless messages, retailers often fall into the trap of creating signs to answer every single customer question they anticipate to be asked!

Apart from coming across as a somewhat lazy way to deal with customers, over-signing a store can also lead to customer-complacency. Too many signs are interpreted as background “chatter” and collectively ignored, defeating the purpose of the communication.

A good signage programme promotes the important messages but also works quietly in the background, introducing products and conveying a bare-minimum of instructional messages at appropriate times and locations.

Think of your signage as a tour guide in a museum or art gallery. The guide is there to explain the displays and help you move through the space, but also gives you the freedom to peel off and explore. They don’t bombard you with rules, but focus on making the experience more interesting whilst also keeping you out of trouble.

Remember that customers come to a store to buy products, not to read signs. Written messages are merely displayed to assist and guide the customer’s meandering shopping experience. We want signs to help them feel they can easily find what they want, but also that they are free to explore, discover and purchase other products.

If you consider all of the messages displayed in your store signage as the script of your tour guide, then like a script, the messages need to flow in a legible, concise and logical manner. They must be polite and clear without being obtrusive.

A good way to understand your script is to create a Signage Hierarchy diagram. This is a snapshot representation of all your signs written together on one sheet of paper in descending order from largest to smallest. It includes every message from department signs to category signs, promotional messages, directional signs, and even down to examples of shelf tickets and name badges.

A Signage Hierarchy allows you to read your store script and understand the complete story being told to the customer. By placing all your signs on one sheet of paper you can quickly assess the quantity, design and tone of the messages as a whole.

For a more advanced Hierarchy Diagram you can even take photos of your signs from the customer viewpoint and stick them on a wall together in the order that they are seen.

When reviewing your Signage Hierarchy, there are three main criteria by which you should assess its effectiveness.

The first is QUANTITY. How many signs does your store have? Stores often have too many, but in some cases there may also be too few. More importantly, review the number of each type of sign. Whilst you may have say only five departments (eg. beauty, vitamins, baby, first aid & prescriptions), it can be easy to over-sign the categories within each of these departments.

What about promotional signs or posters? A high number of these can be a great way to create impact when advertising a seasonal event (eg. a stocktaking sale or Mother’s Day), but make sure they are removed once the event is finished or they will quickly become clutter.

Another common area of over-signing is around service points. Payment and refund policies, security messages, privacy statements, queuing instructions, delivery information and consultation times all fall into this category and can also create clutter if not properly managed. Whilst these may all offer information about your professional services, they can quickly get out-of-hand and present an unprofessional image.

The goal here is to reduce the number of messages to a bare minimum. You may be legally obliged to display some messages, but others might just have been created out of staff frustration from being asked the same question over again.

The second criterion for assessment of your signage is DESIGN. The look and feel of the graphic design of your signs should be consistent with your corporate image. This includes logos, colours, type styles, photographic images, and production methods.

Some stores feel the solution for consistency is to place their logo on every sign, but this can lead to an over-logoed store image. Once customers are in your store they do not need to be constantly reminded which store they are in.

A more subtle solution is to use the logo colours and a consistent type style and layout for each sign. Be sure to consider the viewing distance and legibility here to make sure they can be properly read and understood.

Engaging a graphic designer to create templates for each type of sign you use makes a good investment in the consistency of your store image. Using a template ensures any signs you add in the future look the same as those you have at the beginning.

Finally, the third criterion for assessment is TONE. This is a more subtle characteristic of communication but nonetheless important to keep consistent.

Remember that you are writing a script for guiding customers through your store. The tone you use in your communication is like that of a Master of Ceremonies at a social function, and can convey as much as the words themselves.

Imagine your signs being spoken; a good host will remain calm and speak clearly and politely. They do not SHOUT WITH CAPITALS, but prefer a friendlier Title Case. They are not verbose and always use smaller words in short sentences that everyone can follow. They do not demand but rather request. They are well schooled on the use of correct grammar, and never make spelling mistakes. And finally whilst they aim to prevent confusion, they avoid stating the obvious - let alone repeating it!

Next time you walk through your store, put your customer’s eyes on and take a look at your signage.

Consider the three criteria of quantity, design and tone to assess the effectiveness of your signage programme. Plan and implement changes where necessary and you will surely improve your store’s communication, resulting in a better shopping experience for your customers and increased sales.